Sex differences and structural brain maturation from childhood to early adulthood

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2013 Jul;5:106-18. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2013.02.003. Epub 2013 Feb 24.


Recent advances in structural brain imaging have demonstrated that brain development continues through childhood and adolescence. In the present cross-sectional study, structural MRI data from 442 typically developing individuals (range 8-30) were analyzed to examine and replicate the relationship between age, sex, brain volumes, cortical thickness and surface area. Our findings show differential patterns for subcortical and cortical areas. Analysis of subcortical volumes showed that putamen volume decreased with age and thalamus volume increased with age. Independent of age, males demonstrated larger amygdala and thalamus volumes compared to females. Cerebral white matter increased linearly with age, at a faster pace for females than males. Gray matter showed nonlinear decreases with age. Sex-by-age interactions were primarily found in lobar surface area measurements, with males demonstrating a larger cortical surface up to age 15, while cortical surface in females remained relatively stable with increasing age. The current findings replicate some, but not all prior reports on structural brain development, which calls for more studies with large samples, replications, and specific tests for brain structural changes. In addition, the results point toward an important role for sex differences in brain development, specifically during the heterogeneous developmental phase of puberty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Young Adult