Sex-Based Differences in Cortical and Subcortical Development in 436 Individuals Aged 4-54 Years
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© 2019 The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Sex-based differences in brain development have long been established in ex vivo studies. Recent in vivo studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have offered considerable insight into sex-based variations in brain maturation. However, reports of sex-based differences in cortical volumes and thickness are inconsistent. We examined brain maturation in a cross-sectional, single-site cohort of 436 individuals (201 [46%] males) aged 4-54 years (median = 16 years). Cortical thickness, cortical surface area, subcortical surface area, volumes of the cerebral cortex, white matter (WM), cortical and subcortical gray matter (GM), including the thalamic subnuclei, basal ganglia, and hippocampi were calculated using automatic segmentation pipelines. Subcortical structures demonstrated distinct curvilinear trajectories from the cortex, in both volumetric maturation and surface-area expansion in relation to age. Surface-area analysis indicated that dorsal regions of the thalamus, globus pallidus and striatum, regions demonstrating structural connectivity with frontoparietal cortices, exhibited extensive expansion with age, and were inversely related to changes seen in cortical maturation, which contracted with age. Furthermore, surface-area expansion was more robust in males in comparison to females. Age- and sex-related maturational changes may reflect alterations in dendritic and synaptic architecture known to occur during development from early childhood through to mid-adulthood.