Sex differences in the adult human brain: Evidence from 5216 UK Biobank participants

Stuart J Ritchie, Simon R Cox, Xueyi Shen, Michael V Lombardo, Lianne M Reus, Clara Alloza, Mathew A Harris, Helen L Alderson, Stuart Hunter, Emma Neilson, David C M Liewald, Bonnie Auyeung, Heather C Whalley, Stephen M Lawrie, Catharine R Gale, Mark E Bastin, Andrew M McIntosh, Ian J Deary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Sex differences in the human brain are of interest for many reasons: for example, there are sex differences in the observed prevalence of psychiatric disorders and in some psychological traits that brain differences might help to explain. We report the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain (2750 female, 2466 male participants; mean age 61.7 years, range 44–77 years). Males had higher raw volumes, raw surface areas, and white matter fractional anisotropy; females had higher raw cortical thickness and higher white matter tract complexity. There was considerable distributional overlap between the sexes. Subregional differences were not fully attributable to differences in total volume, total surface area, mean cortical thickness, or height. There was generally greater male variance across the raw structural measures. Functional connectome organization showed stronger connectivity for males in unimodal sensorimotor cortices, and stronger connectivity for females in the default mode network. This large-scale study provides a foundation for attempts to understand the causes and consequences of sex differences in adult brain structure and function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2959-2975
Number of pages17
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number8
Early online date16 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • brain volume
  • cortical thickness
  • fMRI
  • sex differences
  • surface area


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