Investigating Sexual Dimorphism of Human White Matter in a Harmonized, Multisite Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Johanna Seitz, Suheyla Cetin-Karayumak, Amanda Lyall, Ofer Pasternak, Madhura Baxi, Mark Vangel, Godfrey Pearlson, Carol Tamminga, John Sweeney, Brett Clementz, David Schretlen, Petra Verena Viher, Katharina Stegmayer, Sebastian Walther, Jungsun Lee, Tim Crow, Anthony James, Aristotle Voineskos, Robert W. Buchanan, Philip R. SzeszkoAnil Malhotra, Matcheri Keshavan, Inga K. Koerte, Martha E. Shenton, Yogesh Rathi, Marek Kubicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Axonal myelination and repair, critical processes for brain development, maturation, and aging, remain controlled by sexual hormones. Whether this influence is reflected in structural brain differences between sexes, and whether it can be quantified by neuroimaging, remains controversial. Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) is an in vivo method that can track myelination changes throughout the lifespan. We utilize a large, multisite sample of harmonized dMRI data (n = 551, age = 9-65 years, 46% females/54% males) to investigate the influence of sex on white matter (WM) structure. We model lifespan trajectories of WM using the most common dMRI measure fractional anisotropy (FA). Next, we examine the influence of both age and sex on FA variability. We estimate the overlap between male and female FA and test whether it is possible to label individual brains as male or female. Our results demonstrate regionally and spatially specific effects of sex. Sex differences are limited to limbic structures and young ages. Additionally, not only do sex differences diminish with age, but tracts within each subject become more similar to one another. Last, we show the high overlap in FA between sexes, which implies that determining sex based on WM remains open.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-212
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • connectivity
  • diffusion-weighted MRI
  • female
  • fractional anisotropy
  • male

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Investigating Sexual Dimorphism of Human White Matter in a Harmonized, Multisite Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this