Sex steroids and brain structure in pubertal boys and girls: a mini-review of neuroimaging studies

Neuroscience. 2011 Sep 15;191:28-37. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.02.014. Epub 2011 Feb 16.


Puberty is an important period during development hallmarked by increases in sex steroid levels. Human neuroimaging studies have consistently reported that in typically developing pubertal children, cortical and subcortical gray matter is decreasing, whereas white matter increases well into adulthood. From animal studies it has become clear that sex steroids are capable of influencing brain organization, both during the prenatal period as well as during other periods characterized by massive sex steroid changes such as puberty. Here we review structural neuroimaging studies and show that the changes in sex steroids availability during puberty and adolescence might trigger a period of structural reorganization of grey and white matter in the developing human brain. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Neuroactive Steroids: Focus on Human Brain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain* / anatomy & histology
  • Brain* / growth & development
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Estradiol / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data
  • Puberty / metabolism*
  • Steroids / metabolism*
  • Testosterone / metabolism


  • Steroids
  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol