Sex differences in the growth of white matter during adolescence

Neuroimage. 2009 May 1;45(4):1055-66. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.01.023. Epub 2009 Jan 24.


The purpose of this study was to examine sex differences in the maturation of white matter during adolescence (12 to 18 years of age). We measured lobular volumes of white matter and white-matter "density" throughout the brain using T1-weighted images, and estimated the myelination index using magnetisation-transfer ratio (MTR). In male adolescents, we observed age-related increases in white-matter lobular volumes accompanied by decreases in the lobular values of white-matter MTR. White-matter density in the putative cortico-spinal tract (pCST) decreased with age. In female adolescents, on the other hand, we found only small age-related increase in white-matter volumes and no age-related changes in white-matter MTR, with the exception of the frontal lobe where MTR increased. White-matter density in the pCST also increased with age. These results suggest that sex-specific mechanisms may underlie the growth of white matter during adolescence. We speculate that these mechanisms involve primarily age-related increases in axonal calibre in males and increased myelination in females.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Sex Factors