Meta-analysis reveals a lack of sexual dimorphism in human amygdala volume

Neuroimage. 2017 Feb 15;147:282-294. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.12.021. Epub 2016 Dec 9.


The amygdala plays a key role in many affective behaviors and psychiatric disorders that differ between men and women. To test whether human amygdala volume (AV) differs reliably between the sexes, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of AVs reported in MRI studies of age-matched healthy male and female groups. Using four search strategies, we identified 46 total studies (58 matched samples) from which we extracted effect sizes for the sex difference in AV. All data were converted to Hedges g values and pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model. Each dataset was further meta-regressed against study year and average participant age. We found that uncorrected amygdala volume is about 10% larger in males, with pooled sex difference effect sizes of g=0.581 for right amygdala (κ=28, n=2022), 0.666 for left amygdala (κ=28, n=2006), and 0.876 for bilateral amygdala (κ=16, n=1585) volumes (all p values < 0.001). However, this difference is comparable to the sex differences in intracranial volume (ICV; g=1.186, p<.001, 11.9% larger in males, κ=11) and total brain volume (TBV; g=1.278, p<0.001, 11.5% larger in males, κ=15) reported in subsets of the same studies, suggesting the sex difference in AV is a product of larger brain size in males. Among studies reporting AVs normalized for ICV or TBV, sex difference effect sizes were small and not statistically significant: g=0.171 for the right amygdala (p=0.206, κ=13, n=1560); 0.233 for the left amygdala (p=0.092, κ=12, n=1512); and 0.257 for bilateral volume (p=0.131, κ=5, n=1629). These values correspond to less than 0.1% larger corrected right AV and 2.5% larger corrected left AV in males compared to females. In summary, AV is not selectively enhanced in human males, as often claimed. Although we cannot rule out subtle male-female group differences, it is not accurate to refer to the human amygdala as "sexually dimorphic."

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

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult