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MRI Shows Male, Female Dyslexic Brains Differ

May 9, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Men and women differ in many ways—including, according to a new study, brain anatomy among those with dyslexia.

The study, published in the April issue of Brain Structure and Function, used MRI to look at the brains of both males and females, and both children and adults. The authors say most dyslexia studies have been heavily weighted toward males because of “the higher prevalence of dyslexia in males.” In a news release about the study from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, senior author Guinevere Eden, PhD, is quoted as saying dyslexia is two to three times more prevalent in males than in females.

Dr. Eden is director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown and a past president of the International Dyslexia Association. Interestingly, the association says on its Web site, “Dyslexia affects males and females nearly equally.” A 2009 study of gender ratios among those who have reading difficulties, published in Dyslexia, found conflicting evidence but did report greater variances in reading ability among males—among both those with and without dyslexia.

At any rate, nobody is disputing that research on dyslexia (defined broadly as difficulty with reading) has focused primarily on males. The new study uncovered a big surprise, Dr. Eden said:

It has been assumed that results of studies conducted in men are generalizable to both sexes. But our research suggests that researchers need to tackle dyslexia in each sex separately to address questions about its origin and, potentially, treatment.

In males with dyslexia, the study found less gray matter in areas of the brain used to process language, consistent with the findings of earlier studies. But females with dyslexia exhibited less gray matter in areas involved in sensory and motor processing.

Obviously, that has implications for both understanding the origins of dyslexia and devising potential treatments.

“There is sex-specific variance in brain anatomy,” said lead author Tanya Evans, PhD, of the Center for the Study of Learning, “and females tend to use both hemispheres for language tasks, while males just the left. It is also known that sex hormones are related to brain anatomy and that female sex hormones such as estrogen can be protective after brain injury, suggesting another avenue that might lead to the sex-specific findings reported in this study.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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