A new study of a brain region involved in learning and memory, responses to stress and epilepsy has found that male and female brains operate differently at a molecular level.
The findings suggest that female and male brains may respond differently to certain drugs.
“The importance of studying sex differences in the brain is about making biology and medicine relevant to everyone, to both men and women,” said senior author of the study Catherine Woolley, professor at Northwestern in Illinois, US.
“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,” Woolley explained.
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 study was done in rats, it has broad implications for humans because this drug and others like it are currently being tested in clinical trials in humans.
To find out what is the same and what is different between males and females, scientists need to study both sexes, Woolley maintained.
Currently, about 85 percent 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,” Woolley said.
“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,” she pointed out.