Sex effects on structural maturation of the limbic system and outcomes on emotional regulation during adolescence

Neuroimage. 2020 Apr 15;210:116441. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116441. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


Though adolescence is a time of emerging sex differences in emotions, sex-related differences in the anatomy of the maturing brain has been under-explored over this period. The aim of this study was to investigate whether puberty and sexual differentiation in brain maturation could explain emotional differences between girls and boys during adolescence. We adapted a dedicated longitudinal pipeline to process structural and diffusion images from 335 typically developing adolescents between 14 and 16 years. We used voxel-based and Regions of Interest approaches to explore sex and puberty effects on brain and behavioral changes during adolescence. Sexual differences in brain maturation were characterized by amygdala and hippocampal volume increase in boys and decrease in girls. These changes were mediating the sexual differences in positive emotional regulation as illustrated by positive attributes increase in boys and decrease in girls. Moreover, the differential maturation rates between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex highlighted the delayed maturation in boys compared to girls. This is the first study to show the sex effects on the differential cortico/subcortical maturation rates and the interaction between sex and puberty in the limbic system maturation related to positive attributes, reported as being protective from emotional disorders.

Keywords: Adolescence; Diffusion tensor imaging; Longitudinal; Puberty; Sex difference; T1-weigthed imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Emotional Regulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limbic System* / anatomy & histology
  • Limbic System* / diagnostic imaging
  • Limbic System* / growth & development
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / growth & development
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*