Sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior

Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Sep;21(3):431-44. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2007.04.003.


During the intrauterine period the human brain develops in the male direction via direct action of a boy's testosterone, and in the female direction through the absence of this hormone in a girl. During this time, gender identity (the feeling of being a man or a woman), sexual orientation, and other behaviors are programmed. As sexual differentiation of the genitals takes places in the first 2 months of pregnancy, and sexual differentiation of the brain starts during the second half of pregnancy, these two processes may be influenced independently of each other, resulting in transsexuality. This also means that in the case of an ambiguous gender at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the same degree of masculinization of the brain. Differences in brain structures and brain functions have been found that are related to sexual orientation and gender.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Disorders of Sex Development / embryology
  • Disorders of Sex Development / genetics
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychosexual Development / physiology
  • Sex Differentiation / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Transsexualism / genetics


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones