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Stanford University School of Medicine

PTSD affects boys’ and girls’ brains differently, Stanford study finds

teen-silhouetteFor many years, scientists have known that adolescent girls are about twice as likely as boys to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after being exposed to a psychologically traumatic event. But no one has been sure why.

Now, a Stanford team has published brain-scanning findings that may help explain the sex difference. The researchers, led by psychologist Megan Klabunde, PhD, and psychiatrist Victor Carrion, MD, used MRI scans to compare the brains of youth of both sexes with PTSD to a control group of young people who had not experienced trauma. Among the traumatized youth -- but not among boys and girls in the control group -- they found a sex difference in a brain region called the insula.

The insula, which has previously been implicated in PTSD, helps integrate one's feelings and actions with several other brain functions. In traumatized girls, the researchers saw that the volume and surface area of a part of the insula called the anterior circular sulcus was smaller than in non-traumatized youth. Traumatized boys had a larger volume and surface area of the same brain area than members of the control group. The insula normally shrinks during adolescence, and the researchers think their findings may indicate that traumatic stress could contribute to accelerated maturation of the insula in girls who develop PTSD.

Klabunde explains in our press release:

It is important that people who work with traumatized youth consider the sex differences... Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment.

More research is needed to observe how the brains of traumatized youth change over time, the researchers said. The findings could also serve as the basis for further studies that test whether sex-specific PTSD treatments are beneficial.

Previously: Beyond behavior: Stanford expert on recognizing and helping traumatized kids, Type of verbal therapy could reduce PTSD risk among trauma victims and Stanford physician highlights the "never-ending battle" of PTSD
Photo by jessica wilson (jek in the box)

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