Sexual differentiation of the vertebrate nervous system

Nat Neurosci. 2004 Oct;7(10):1034-9. doi: 10.1038/nn1325.


Understanding the mechanisms that give rise to sex differences in the behavior of nonhuman animals may contribute to the understanding of sex differences in humans. In vertebrate model systems, a single factor-the steroid hormone testosterone-accounts for most, and perhaps all, of the known sex differences in neural structure and behavior. Here we review some of the events triggered by testosterone that masculinize the developing and adult nervous system, promote male behaviors and suppress female behaviors. Testosterone often sculpts the developing nervous system by inhibiting or exacerbating cell death and/or by modulating the formation and elimination of synapses. Experience, too, can interact with testosterone to enhance or diminish its effects on the central nervous system. However, more work is needed to uncover the particular cells and specific genes on which testosterone acts to initiate these events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / anatomy & histology
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Sex Differentiation / physiology*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Vertebrates / anatomy & histology
  • Vertebrates / growth & development*


  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Testosterone