Imaging Study Shows Gender Differences in Brain Activity

A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease shows that women’s brains are significantly more active in several regions, particularly in the prefrontal cortex (involved with focus and impulse control) and in the limbic or emotional areas of the brain (involved with mood and anxiety). The brains of men showed more activity in the visual and coordination centers.

Understanding these differences is important because brain disorders affect men and women differently. Women have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, depression (which is itself is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease), and anxiety disorders while men have higher rates of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct-related problems, and incarceration (by 1,400 percent).

The study, conducted by nine Amen Clinics, is the largest functional brain imaging study to date. Researchers compared 46,034 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans, looking for differences between the brains of men and women.

SPECT can measure blood perfusion in the brain. Images acquired from subjects at rest or while performing various cognitive tasks are able to show different blood flow in specific brain regions.

“This is a very important study to help understand gender-based brain differences,” said lead author Daniel G. Amen, M.D., psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc.

“The quantifiable differences we identified between men and women are important for understanding gender-based risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using functional neuroimaging tools, such as SPECT, are essential to developing precision medicine brain treatments in the future.”

The study involved 119 healthy volunteers and 26,683 patients with a variety of psychiatric conditions such as brain trauma, bipolar disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, and attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers analyzed 128 brain regions in the participants at baseline and while they were performing a concentration task.

“Precisely defining the physiological and structural basis of gender differences in brain function will illuminate Alzheimer’s disease and understanding our partners,” said Dr. George Perry, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and dean of the College of Sciences at The University of Texas at San Antonio.

The study findings of increased prefrontal cortex blood flow in women compared to men may explain why women tend to exhibit greater strengths in the areas of empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control, and appropriate concern.

The researchers also found increased blood flow in limbic areas of the brains of women, which may also partially explain why women are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and eating disorders.

Source: IOS Press