Location, location, location: genetic regulation of neural sex differences

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2012 Sep;13(3):151-61. doi: 10.1007/s11154-011-9186-0.


Sex differences in many behaviors such as cognition, mood, and motor skills are well-documented in animals and humans and are regulated by many neural circuits. Sexual dimorphisms within cell populations in these circuits play critical roles in the production of these behavioral dichotomies. Here we focus on three proteins that have well described sexual dimorphisms; calbindin-D28k, a calcium binding protein, tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate limiting enzyme involved in dopamine synthesis and vasopressin, a neuropeptide with central and peripheral sites of action. We describe the sex differences in subpopulations of these proteins, with particular emphasis on laboratory mice. Our thrust is to examine genetic bases of sex differences and how the use of genetically modified models has advanced our understanding of this topic. Regional sex differences in the expression of these three proteins are driven by sex chromosome complement, steroid receptors or in some instances both. While studies of sex differences attributable to sex chromosome genes are still few in number it is exciting to note that this variable factors into expression differences for all three of these proteins. Different genetic mechanisms, which elaborate sex differences, may be employed stochastically in different cell populations. Alternately, general patterns involving the timing of differentiation of the sex differences, relative to the "critical period" in hormonal differences between males and female neonates may emerge. In conclusion, future directions in this area should include examination of the importance of location, timing, steroidal receptor/sex chromosome gene synergy and epigenetics in molding neural sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / physiology
  • Calbindin 1
  • Calbindins
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Preoptic Area / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G / genetics*
  • Septal Nuclei / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Chromosomes / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics*
  • Vasopressins / genetics*


  • CALB1 protein, human
  • Calb1 protein, mouse
  • Calb1 protein, rat
  • Calbindin 1
  • Calbindins
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G
  • Vasopressins
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase