The human hippocampus is not sexually-dimorphic: Meta-analysis of structural MRI volumes

Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 1;124(Pt A):350-366. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.08.050. Epub 2015 Aug 31.


Hippocampal atrophy is found in many psychiatric disorders that are more prevalent in women. Sex differences in memory and spatial skills further suggest that males and females differ in hippocampal structure and function. We conducted the first meta-analysis of male-female difference in hippocampal volume (HCV) based on published MRI studies of healthy participants of all ages, to test whether the structure is reliably sexually dimorphic. Using four search strategies, we collected 68 matched samples of males' and females' uncorrected HCVs (in 4418 total participants), and 36 samples of male and female HCVs (2183 participants) that were corrected for individual differences in total brain volume (TBV) or intracranial volume (ICV). Pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model for left, right, and bilateral uncorrected HCVs and for left and right HCVs corrected for TBV or ICV. We found that uncorrected HCV was reliably larger in males, with Hedges' g values of 0.545 for left hippocampus, 0.526 for right hippocampus, and 0.557 for bilateral hippocampus. Meta-regression revealed no effect of age on the sex difference in left, right, or bilateral HCV. In the subset of studies that reported it, both TBV (g=1.085) and ICV (g=1.272) were considerably larger in males. Accordingly, studies reporting HCVs corrected for individual differences in TBV or ICV revealed no significant sex differences in left and right HCVs (Hedges' g ranging from +0.011 to -0.206). In summary, we found that human males of all ages exhibit a larger HCV than females, but adjusting for individual differences in TBV or ICV results in no reliable sex difference. The frequent claim that women have a disproportionately larger hippocampus than men was not supported.

Keywords: Brain; Gender; Morphometry; Sex difference; Systematic review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult