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Gender and sex hormones affect the brain's pain response and more, according to new studies

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 24 -- Scientists are now uncovering increasing evidence that the brain not only responds to hormones produced by the reproductive system, but that these hormones--the so-called "female hormones," estrogen and progestin, and the "male" androgens, such as testosterone--play an important role in the development of differences between male and female brains.

"Understanding the impact of hormones on sex differences in the brain is important for understanding human health and disease," says University of Michigan biopsychologist Jill Becker, PhD. "Some conditions--persistent pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia and TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome), for example--are more frequently diagnosed in women than in men. More women than men also suffer from mood disorders, such as major depression, and anxiety disorders. On the other hand, more men than women develop alcoholism and abuse drugs."

The study of hormone-related differences between male and female brains is not as simple as it may seem at first. Straightforward comparisons of males and females are not possible because of the cyclical nature of reproductive hormone production in females, Becker points out. The menstrual cycle in humans and other primates and the estrous cycle in rats and mice involve constantly changing levels of reproductive hormones in the blood and in the brain. Furthermore, although brain development begins before birth, it continues well into young adulthood, and there is increasing evidence that parts of the brain continue to grow, die back, and change throughout the life span.

"Reproductive hormones have effects on all of these stages of brain growth and development," says Becker. "For these and other reasons, the study of sex differences in the brain is both complicated and fascinating."

At the University of British Columbia , Liisa Galea, PhD, has been investigating the contribution of one form of estrogen, estradiol, to learning and mem
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Contact: Leah Ariniello
dawn@sfn.org
202-462-6688
Society for Neuroscience
24-Oct-2004


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