Multilevel mapping of sexual dimorphism in intrinsic functional brain networks

Nina De Lacy, Elizabeth McCauley, J. Nathan Kutz, Vince D. Calhoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Differences in cognitive performance between males and females are well-described, most commonly in certain spatial and language tasks. Sex-related differences in cognition are relevant to the study of the neurotypical brain and to neuropsychiatric disorders, which exhibit prominent disparities in the incidence, prevalence and severity of symptoms between men and women. While structural dimorphism in the human brain is well-described, controversy exists regarding the existence and degree of sex-related differences in brain function. We analyzed resting-state functional MRI from 650 neurotypical young adults matched for age and sex to determine the degree of sexual dimorphism present in intrinsic functional networks. Multilevel modeling was pursued to create 8-, 24-, and 51-network models of whole-brain data to quantify sex-related effects in network activity with increasing resolution. We determined that sexual dimorphism is present in the majority of intrinsic brain networks and affects ∼0.5-2% of brain locations surveyed in the three whole-brain network models. It is particularly common in task-positive control networks and is pervasive among default mode networks. The size of sex-related effects varied by network but can be moderate or even large in size. Female > male effects were on average larger, but male > female effects spread across greater network territory. Using a novel methodology, we mapped dimorphic locations to meta-analytic association test maps derived from task fMRI, demonstrating that the neurocognitive footprint of intrinsic neural correlates is much larger in males. All results were replicated in a motion-matched sub-sample. Our findings argue that sex is an important biological variable in human brain function and suggest that observed differences in neurocognitive performance have identifiable intrinsic neural correlates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number332
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - 2019


  • Female
  • Functional MRI
  • ICA
  • Intrinsic networks
  • Male
  • Sex-related differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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