Male and female brains DO work differently and it could affect how we react to drugs

  • Northwestern University researchers have found a difference between males and females in the molecular regulation of hippocampus synapses
  • Brain region is involved in learning and memory, plus responses to stress
  • Discovery may explain why female and male brains respond differently to drugs targeting certain synaptic pathways
  • Research could one day lead to the development of more targeted drugs

Sarah Griffiths for MailOnline

It’s often said that women are from Venus while men are from Mars.

Now neuroscientists have found that male and female brains really do work differently, on a molecular level.

They discovered an intrinsic biological difference between males and females in the molecular regulation of synapses in the hippocampus, which could affect how we react to drugs.

Neuroscientists have found that male and female brains work differently. They discovered an intrinsic biological difference between males and females in the molecular regulation of synapses in the hippocampus. The brain region involved in learning and memory is illustrated in red

Neuroscientists have found that male and female brains work differently. They discovered an intrinsic biological difference between males and females in the molecular regulation of synapses in the hippocampus. The brain region involved in learning and memory is illustrated in red

This region of the brain is involved in learning and memory, as well as responses to stress and epilepsy.

Scientists have long pondered why some brain disorders vary between the sexes and the new discovery may explain why.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois, believe their discovery may explain why female and male brains respond differently to drugs targeting certain synaptic pathways.

Scientists believe their discovery may explain why female and male brains respond differently to drugs targeting certain synaptic pathways (illustrated)

Scientists believe their discovery may explain why female and male brains respond differently to drugs targeting certain synaptic pathways (illustrated)

‘The importance of studying sex differences in the brain is about making biology and medicine relevant to everyone, to both men and women,’ said Catherine S Woolley, senior author of the study and a professor of neurobiology.

‘It is not about things such as who is better at reading a map or why more men than women choose to enter certain professions.’

Among their findings, the scientists found that a drug called URB-597, which regulates a molecule important in neurotransmitter release, had an effect in females that it did not have in males.

While the experiment was carried out on rats, it has broad implications for humans because this drug and others like it are currently being tested in clinical trials in humans.

‘Our study starts to put some specifics on what types of molecular differences there are in male and female brains,’ Professor Woolley said.

The research, which is the first to detail where males and females differ in a key molecular pathway in the brain, is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

‘We don’t know whether this finding will translate to humans or not,’ Professor Woolley said, ‘but right now people who are investigating endocannabinoids in humans probably are not aware that manipulating these molecules could have different effects in males and females.’

Endocannabinoids are molecules that help regulate the amount of certain neurotransmitters released at synapses – the gap between neurons.

These molecules are involved in a variety of physiological processes including memory, motivational state, appetite and pain as well as in epilepsy, a neurological disorder.

Understanding what controls the mixture, release and breakdown of endocannabinoids has broad implications both for normal and pathological brain function, she explained.

By understanding the differences between male and female brains, different drugs could be developed to target conditions in the sexes

By understanding the differences between male and female brains, different drugs could be developed to target conditions in the sexes

REPRESENTATION OF THE SEXES IN NEUROSCIENCE STUDIES 

Currently, about 85 per cent of basic neuroscience studies are done in male animals, tissues or cells.

Professor Woolley said: ‘We are not doing women – and specifically women’s health – any favours by pretending that things are the same if they are not.

‘If the results of research would be different in female animals, tissues and cells, then we need to know.

‘This is essential so that we can find appropriate diagnoses, treatments and, ultimately, cures for disease in both sexes.’

The professor believes her study contributes an important piece of knowledge.

Her team found that in female brains, the drug URB-597 increased the inhibitory effect of a key endocannabinoid in the brain, called anandamide, causing a decrease in the release of neurotransmitters.

But in male brains, the drug had no effect.

The team used a series of electrophysiological and biochemical studies to pinpoint what causes the effect.

They found the difference between males and females lies in the interaction between the molecules ERalpha and mGluR1.

The professor noted that currently, about 85 per cent of basic neuroscience studies are done in male animals, tissues or cells.

‘We are not doing women – and specifically women’s health – any favours by pretending that things are the same if they are not,’ she said.

‘If the results of research would be different in female animals, tissues and cells, then we need to know. 

Scientists have long pondered why many brain disorders vary between the sexes and the new discovery may explain why. A file image of a young woman undergoing an electroencephalogram (EEG)  to trace epilepsy is shown

Scientists have long pondered why many brain disorders vary between the sexes and the new discovery may explain why. A file image of a young woman undergoing an electroencephalogram (EEG)  to trace epilepsy is shown

‘This is essential so that we can find appropriate diagnoses, treatments and, ultimately, cures for disease in both sexes.’

Dr Woolley avoided studying sex differences in the brain for 20 years until her own data showed her that differences between females and males were real.

Her discovery, reported in 2012, that oestrogens decreased inhibitory synaptic transmission in the brains of female rats but not in males, changed her thinking.

‘Being a scientist is about changing your mind in the face of new evidence,’ Professor Woolley said.

‘I had to change my mind in the face of this evidence.’  




Source:
Male and female brains DO work differently and it could affect how we react to drugs

Via: Google Alert for Neuroscience