Margaret McCarthy of the University of Maryland School of Medicine will present a lecture entitled: Immune origins of sex differences in the brain.
Abstract: It’s not easy being male. Male fetuses die at a higher rate, are more likely to be born prematurely, more likely to suffer a birth injury, and if they do will fare far worse than females. Postnatally boys are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders more often than girls, have on average more severe and earlier onset schizophrenia, experience markedly higher rates of attention and hyperactivity disorders and are three times as likely to have language and learning disabilities. This marked gender bias so early in life compels us to understand the biological origins of sex differences in the brain. Animal models free of the complicating influences of gender bias offer the best hope for identifying cellular and molecular mechanisms by which sex differences are established and maintained. Sex differences abound throughout the brain and range from the macro-, size of entire regions, to the micro-, the average density of synapses along a dendrite, to the mini-, transcriptomic profiles. Androgens derived from the fetal testis drive the sex differentiation process, resulting in a masculinized brain phenotype that will endure across the lifespan. Identifying the mechanisms of androgen mediated masculinization of the brain has been a long standing goal with recent advances highlighting surprising roles for inflammatory signaling molecules and immune cells. Inflammation during pregnancy is a major risk factor for development of neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders in the offspring. In this talk recent findings on how the immune system sculpts enduring sex differences in the healthy brain will be reviewed and the implications for disease risk, especially in males, discussed.