Brain structural changes in women and men during midlife

Neurosci Lett. 2016 Feb 26;615:107-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.01.007. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Brain development during childhood and adolescence differs between boys and girls. Structural changes continue during adulthood and old age, particularly in terms of brain volume reductions that accelerate beyond age 35 years. We investigated whether brain structural change in mid-life differs between men and women. 43 men and 28 women from the Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort underwent MRI brain scans at age 33-35 (SD=0.67) and then again at age 42-44 (SD=0.41). We examined sex differences in total percentage brain volume change (PBVC) and regional brain change with FSL SIENA software. Women showed significant PBVC reduction compared with men between the ages of 33-35 and 42-44 years (Mean=-3.21% in men, Mean=-4.03% in women, F (1, 68)=6.37, p<0.05). In regional analyses, women exhibited greater brain reduction than men in widespread areas. After controlling for total percent brain volume change, men show greater relative regional brain reduction than women in bilateral precentral gyri, bilateral paracingulate gyri, and bilateral supplementary motor cortices. The results indicate sex differences in brain changes in mid-life. Women have more total brain reduction, and more reduction on the outer brain surface than men, whereas men exhibit more brain reduction on the mid-line surface than women after co-varying for total brain volume loss. These changes could contribute to sex differences in midlife behaviour and health.

Keywords: Ageing; Gender difference; Longitudinal MRI; Sex differences; Sexual dimorphism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Sex Factors