Language-associated cortical regions are proportionally larger in the female brain

Arch Neurol. 1997 Feb;54(2):171-6. doi: 10.1001/archneur.1997.00550140045011.


Background: Many studies have demonstrated significant sexual dimorphism in verbal ability. However, few studies have examined anatomical differences between the sexes that may underlie such dimorphism.

Objective: To examine sex differences in the absolute and proportional volumes of the main language-associated regions of the cerebral cortex.

Design and main outcome measures: Control neuropathological case series of consecutive autopsies from a teaching hospital. No significant age-related volume changes were identified in the sample. Two language-associated cortical regions, the superior temporal gyrus (part of the Wernicke area) and its subdivisions (planum temporale, Heschl gyrus, and anterior superior temporal gyrus) and the inferior frontal gyrus (Broca area in the dominant hemisphere), and a non-language-associated region, the frontal pole, were measured using stereological techniques in brains fixed with formaldehyde solution serially sectioned at 3-mm intervals. Volume comparisons between the sexes and between brain hemispheres were performed using 2-way analysis of variance.

Setting: Studies were conducted at the University of Sydney and the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Sydney, Australia.

Patients: Ten males and 11 females free from neurologic or neuropathological abnormalities.

Results: The volume of the superior temporal cortex, expressed as a proportion of total cerebral volume, was significantly larger in females compared with males (17.8% increase; P = .04). This was accounted for by 1 section of the superior temporal cortex, the planum temporale, which was 29.8% larger in females (P = .04). In addition, the cortical volume fraction of the Broca area in females was 20.4% larger than in males (P = .05). In contrast, no significant differences were found in the proportional volume of the frontal pole or in regional volumes between the left and right hemispheres in either sex group.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that females have proportionally larger Wernicke and Broca language-associated regions compared with males. These anatomical differences may correlate with superior language skills previously demonstrated in females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadaver
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*