Abstract

Volumetric magnetic resonance image (MRI)-based morphometry was performed on the brains of 30 normal children (15 males and 15 males) with a mean age of 9 years (range 7–11 years). This age range lies in a late but critical phase of brain growth where net volumetric increment will be small but when the details of brain circuit are being fine-tuned to support the operations of the adult brain. The brain at this age is 95% the volume of the adult brain. The brain of the female child is 93% the volume of the male child. For more than 95% of brain structures, the volumetric differences in male and female child brain are uniformly scaled to the volume difference of the total brain in the two sexes. Exceptions to this pattern of uniform scaling are the caudate, hippocampus and pallidum, which are disproportionately larger in female than male child brain, and the amygdala, which is disproportionately smaller in the female child brain. The patterns of uniform scaling are generally sustained during the final volumetric increment in overall brain size between age 1–11 and adulthood. There are exceptions to this uniform scaling of child to adult brain, and certain of these exceptions are sexually dimorphic. Thus, with respect to major brain regions, the cerebellum in the female but not the male child is already at adult volume while the brainstem in both sexes must enlarge more than the brain as a whole. The collective subcortical gray matter structures of the forebrain of the female child are already at their adult volumes. The volumes of these same structures in the male child, by contrast, are greater than their adult volumes and, by implication, must regress in volume before adulthood. The volume of the central white matter, on the other hand, is disproportionately smaller in female than male child brain with respect to the adult volumes c cerebral central white matter. By implication, relative volumetric increase of cerebral central white matter by adulthood must be greater in the female than male brain. The juxtaposed progressive and regressive patterns of growth of brain structures implied by these observations in the human brain have a soundly established precedent in the developing rhesus brain. There is emerging evidence that sexually dimorphic abnormal regulation of these terminal patterns of brain development are associated with gravely disabling human disorders of obscure etiology.