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Research Shows ‘Sex Steroids’ Play Key Role in Male Brain Development

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have discovered a mechanism for how androgens – male sex steroids – sculpt brain development.

The research, conducted by Margaret M. McCarthy, Ph.D., who Chairs the Department of Pharmacology, could ultimately help researchers understand behavioral development differences between males and females, as well as challenge the cultural dogma of a purely cultural male/female dynamic.

The research, published in Neuron, discovered a mechanism for how androgens, male sex steroids, sculpt the brains of male rats to produce behavioral differences, such as more aggression and rougher play behavior.

Dr McCarthy said: “We already knew that the brains of males and females are different and that testosterone produced during the second trimester in humans and late gestation in rodents contributes to the differences but we did not know how testosterone has these effects.”

A key contributor to the differences in play behavior between males and females is a sex-based difference in the number of newborn cells in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which controls emotions and social behaviors.

The research showed that males have fewer of these newborn cells because they are actively eliminated by immune cells.

This study provides a mechanism for sex-based differences in social behaviors and suggests that differences in androgen and endocannabinoid signaling may contribute to individual differences in brain development and thus behavioral differences among people.

Read more: How Wounded Boys Become Men

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