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Gender differences in the functional organization of the brain for working memory

Speck, Oliver1,5; Ernst, Thomas1,2; Braun, Jochen3; Koch, Christoph3; Miller, Eric4; Chang, Linda1

Brain Imaging

Gender differences in brain activation during working memory tasks were examined with fMRI. Seventeen right-handed subjects (nine males, eight females) were studied with four different verbal working memory tasks of varying difficulty using whole brain echo-planar fMRI. Consistent with prior studies, we observed activation of the lateral prefrontal cortices (LPFC), the parietal cortices (PC), and additionally, caudate activation in both sexes. The volume of activated brain tissue increased with increasing task difficulty. For all four tasks, the male subjects showed bilateral activation or right-sided dominance (LPFC, PC and caudate), whereas females showed activation predominantly in the left hemisphere. The task performance data demonstrated higher accuracy and slightly slower reaction times for the female subjects. Our results show a highly significant (p < 0.001) gender differences in the functional organization of the brain for working memory. These gender-specific differences in functional organization of the brain may be due to gender-differences in problem solving strategies or the neurodevelopment. Therefore, gender matching or stratification is required for studies of brain function using imaging techniques.

1Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, 1124 W. Carson Street, Building B-4, Torrance, CA 90502, USA

2Department of Radiology, UCLA School of Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, 1124 W. Carson Street, Building B-4, Torrance, CA 90502, USA

3Division of Computational Neural Systems, Department of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA

4Department of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, 1124 W. Carson Street, Building B-4, Torrance, CA 90502, USA

5Corresponding Author: Oliver Speck

Received 26 April 2000; accepted 5 June 2000

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.