Sex differences in the developing brain: insights from multimodal neuroimaging

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Jan;44(1):71-85. doi: 10.1038/s41386-018-0111-z. Epub 2018 Jun 6.


Youth (including both childhood and adolescence) is a period when the brain undergoes dramatic remodeling and is also a time when neuropsychiatric conditions often emerge. Many of these illnesses have substantial sex differences in prevalence, suggesting that sex differences in brain development may underlie differential risk for psychiatric symptoms between males and females. Substantial evidence documents sex differences in brain structure and function in adults, and accumulating data suggests that these sex differences may be present or emerge during development. Here we review the evidence for sex differences in brain structure, white matter organization, and perfusion during development. We then use these normative differences as a framework to understand sex differences in brain development associated with psychopathology. In particular, we focus on sex differences in the brain as they relate to anxiety, depression, psychosis, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms. Finally, we highlight existing limitations, gaps in knowledge, and fertile avenues for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Multimodal Imaging*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Sex Characteristics*