The amount of blood to the brains of boys hitting puberty rapidly decreases while girls get an increasing cerebral flow, a new study has found.
Puberty is the defining process of adolescent development, beginning a cascade of changes throughout the body including the brain.
These new findings, which could be a step towards creating normal growth charts for brain development in kids, are published in PNA (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).
“These results also show what every parent knows: boys and girls grow differently,” says Theodore D. Satterthwaite, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Hopefully, one day such growth charts might allow us to identify abnormal brain development much earlier before it leads to major mental illness.”
Studies on structural brain development have shown that puberty is an important source of sex differences.
Previous work has shown that cerebral blood flow declines throughout childhood but the effects of puberty are not well known.
“We know that adult women have higher blood flow than men, but it was not clear when that difference began, so we hypothesised that the gap between women and men would begin in adolescence and coincide with puberty,” Satterthwaite says.
The difference between males and females was most notable in parts of the brain critical for social behaviors and emotion regulation.
The researchers speculate that such differences could be related to females’ well-established superior performance on social cognition tasks or how to deal with people.
Potentially, these effects could also be related to the higher risk in women for depression and anxiety disorders, and higher risk of schizophrenia in men.
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