The Orthodox View of Brain Sexual DifferentiationBreedlove S.M. · Cooke B.M. · Jordan C.L.
University of California, Berkeley, Calif., USA
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The standard view of sexual differentiation of the brain, derived primarily from work with mammals, is that the same steroidal signal which permanently masculinizes the body early in life, androgen, also permanently masculinizes the nervous system. This oversimplified view overlooks the rich diversity of mechanisms produced by natural selection. We review the mechanisms underlying sexual differentiation of what may be the simplest mammalian model, the spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus (SNB), a system that is intimately associated with sexual differentiation of the periphery. Indeed, in many instances, early androgen can permanently masculinize the SNB system but, surprisingly, these early influences may depend to some extent on social mediating factors. Furthermore, in adulthood, androgen continues to affect the SNB system in diverse ways, acting on several different loci, indicating a life-long plasticity in even this simple system. Finally, there is evidence that adult androgens interact with social experience in order to affect the SNB system. Thus the SNB system displays a far richer array of interactions than the standard view of sexual differentiation would predict. Examination of other systems and other species, as depicted in the following reports, reveals a far more complicated, and far more interesting perspective on how the brains and behaviors of males and females diverge.
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