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Traumatic stress shapes the brains of boys and girls in different ways
by Brooks Hays
Palo Alto, Calif. (UPI) Nov 11, 2016


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

New research show the brains of boys and girls are affected differently by trauma.

The structural differences between young male and female PTSD patients were found inside the insula, one of the brain's processing centers for empathy and other emotions.

"The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD," Victor Carrion, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in a news release. "The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls who have experienced psychological trauma is important because it may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes."

Previous studies suggest girls are more likely to exhibit PTSD symptoms in the wake of a traumatic event than boys are. Scientists have struggled to explain why.

Structural differences in the brains of young people may offer an answer.

Interestingly, researchers in the latest study failed to identify statistically significant structural differences from girls and boys in the control group -- girls and boys not diagnosed with PTSD.

But the new research makes clear that the brains of boys and girls are affected differently by stress.

"There are some studies suggesting that high levels of stress could contribute to early puberty in girls," said Megan Klabunde, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford.

In the latest study -- published in the journal Depression and Anxiety -- scientists found the insulas in the brains of male PTSD patients were larger on average than those in the brains of males in the control group. The opposite was true for females.

Stress enlarged the insulas of boys and shrunk the insulas of girls.

Researchers say their findings are proof that gender should be considered in determining proper treatment for young people diagnosed with PTSD. To improve upon their work and expand upon their findings, the study's authors recommend more longitudinal studies to follow the changes in stressed adolescent brains over time.


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