Are Men and Women’s Brains More Different Than We Thought?

Learning process, brainstorming vector illustration

Male and female brains operate differently. According to research published in The Journal of Neuroscience, there is a key molecular difference in the pathway of male and female brains – specifically in the regulation of synapses in the hippocampus involved in learning and memory, responses to stress and epilepsy.

Scientists know that many brain disorders vary between the sexes. However how biology and culture contribute to these differences has remained unclear. This test (which was done on rats) is significant because it may mean that women and men should be treated differently for different brain-related disorders. Specifically, 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. In female brains, URB-597 increased the inhibitory effect of a key endocannabinoid in the brain, called anandamide, causing a decrease in the release of neurotransmitters. In male brains, the drug had no effect.

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. The name endocannabinoids comes from the fact that endocannabinoids activate the same neural receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana.

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

This research may change the way scientists do research in the future. To find out what is the same and what is different between males and females, scientists need to study both sexes. Currently, roughly 85 per cent of neuroscience studies are done in male animals, tissues or cells.

We are not doing women’s health any favours by pretending that things are the same if they are not.