Girls show a larger structural change in the insula part of the brain when suffering from a traumatic event.
A new study using brain scans have revealed an interesting difference in the way adolescent boys’ and girls’ brains alter after experiencing traumatic stress.
The research, conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine, looked at adolescents suffering from PTSD and found structural differences inside the insula – this is a key part of the brain responsible for empathy.
In previous studies, scientists have found teenage girls are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD in the beginning of a traumatic event than boys, however, so far it hasn’t been explained why.
“The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD,” stated Victor Carrion, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. “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.”
The current study involved conducting MRI scans of the brains of 59 children between the ages of nine and 17. Half of the participants had gone through traumatic events while the other half had not. Each group had an equal number of boys and girls.
They found no structural differences in the group who hadn’t suffered from a traumatic event, however, they noticed a much larger volume and surface area in the insula part of the brain within the traumatized group – a portion of the insula called the anterior circular sulcus.
The findings of the study suggests that girls suffer an accelerated cortical aging of the insula compared to boys when exposed to trauma.
It’s hoped the study will go towards developing specific treatments for each sex in cases of PTSD.
“By better understanding sex differences in a region of the brain involved in emotion processing, clinicians and scientists may be able to develop sex-specific trauma and emotion dysregulation treatments,” stated the researchers.
Details of the study were published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.