Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases

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By Azeen Ghorayshi An upsurge in teenagers requesting hormones or surgeries to better align their bodies with their gender identities has ignited a debate among doctors over when to provide these treatments. An international group of experts focused on transgender health last month released a draft of new guidelines, the gold standard of the field that informs what insurers will reimburse for care. Many doctors and activists praised the 350-page document, which was updated for the first time in nearly a decade, for including transgender people in its drafting and for removing language requiring adults to have psychological assessments before getting access to hormone therapy. But the guidelines take a more cautious stance on teens. A new chapter dedicated to adolescents says that they must undergo mental health assessments and must have questioned their gender identity for “several years” before receiving drugs or surgeries. Experts in transgender health are divided on these adolescent recommendations, reflecting a fraught debate over how to weigh conflicting risks for young people, who typically can’t give full legal consent until they are 18 and who may be in emotional distress or more vulnerable to peer influence than adults are. Some of the drug regimens bring long-term risks, such as irreversible fertility loss. And in some cases, thought to be quite rare, transgender people later “detransition” to the gender they were assigned at birth. Given these risks, as well as the increasing number of adolescents seeking these treatments, some clinicians say that teens need more psychological assessment than adults do. “They absolutely have to be treated differently,” said Laura Edwards-Leeper, a child clinical psychologist in Beaverton, Ore., who works with transgender adolescents. Dr. Edwards-Leeper was one of seven authors of the new adolescent chapter, but the organization that publishes the guidelines, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, did not authorize her to comment publicly on the draft’s proposed wording. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28156 - Posted: 01.15.2022

By Sabrina Imbler Common bottlenose dolphins have sex frequently — very likely multiple times in a day. Copulation lasts only a few seconds, but social sex, which is used to maintain social bonds, can last much longer, happen more frequently and involve myriad heterosexual and homosexual pairings of dolphins and their body parts. Anything is possible, and, as new research suggests, probably pleasurable for swimmers of both sexes. According to a paper published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, female bottlenose dolphins most likely experience pleasure through their clitorises. The findings come as little surprise to scientists who research these dolphins. “The only thing that surprises me is how long it has taken us as scientists to look at the basic reproductive anatomy,” Sarah Mesnick, an ecologist at NOAA Fisheries who was not involved with the research, said, speaking of the clitoris. She added, “It took a team of brilliant women,” referring to two of the authors. “A lot of people assume that humans are unique in having sex for pleasure,” Justa Heinen-Kay, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who was not involved with the paper, wrote in an email. “This research challenges that notion.” And learning more about the anatomy of marine mammals’ genitalia has clear implications for their survival, Dr. Mesnick said: “The more we know about the social behavior of these animals, the better we’re able to understand their evolution and help use that to manage and conserve them.” Historically, researchers have focused on male genitalia, driven by prejudice toward male subjects, prejudice against female choice in sexual selection and the fact that it can be easier to study something that sticks out. “Female genitalia were assumed to be simple and uninteresting,” Dr. Heinen-Kay said. “But the more that researchers study female genitalia, the more we’re learning that this isn’t the case at all.” She added that this shift may be driven in part by the increasing number of women researchers. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 28147 - Posted: 01.12.2022

Jon Hamilton When baby mice cry, they do it to a beat that is synchronized to the rise and fall of their own breath. It's a pattern that researchers say could help explain why human infants can cry at birth — and how they learn to speak. Mice are born with a cluster of cells in the brainstem that appears to coordinate the rhythms of breathing and vocalizations, a team reports in the journal Neuron. If similar cells exist in human newborns, they could serve as an important building block for speech: the ability to produce one or many syllables between each breath. The cells also could explain why so many human languages are spoken at roughly the same tempo. "This suggests that there is a hardwired network of neurons that is fundamental to speech," says Dr. Kevin Yackle, the study's senior author and a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Scientists who study human speech have spent decades debating how much of our ability is innate and how much is learned. The research adds to the evidence that human speech relies — at least in part — on biological "building blocks" that are present from birth, says David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University who was not involved in the study. But "there is just a big difference between a mouse brain and a human brain," Poeppel says. So the human version of this building block may not look the same. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 28144 - Posted: 01.08.2022

By Bruce Bower Evidence that cross-continental Stone Age networking events powered human evolution ramped up in 2021. A long-standing argument that Homo sapiens originated in East Africa before moving elsewhere and replacing Eurasian Homo species such as Neandertals has come under increasing fire over the last decade. Research this year supported an alternative scenario in which H. sapiens evolved across vast geographic expanses, first within Africa and later outside it. The process would have worked as follows: Many Homo groups lived during a period known as the Middle Pleistocene, about 789,000 to 130,000 years ago, and were too closely related to have been distinct species. These groups would have occasionally mated with each other while traveling through Africa, Asia and Europe. A variety of skeletal variations on a human theme emerged among far-flung communities. Human anatomy and DNA today include remnants of that complex networking legacy, proponents of this scenario say. It’s not clear precisely how often or when during this period groups may have mixed and mingled. But in this framework, no clear genetic or physical dividing line separated Middle Pleistocene folks usually classed as H. sapiens from Neandertals, Denisovans and other ancient Homo populations. “Middle Pleistocene Homo groups were humans,” says paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Today’s humans are a remix of those ancient ancestors.” © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Evolution; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 28111 - Posted: 12.15.2021

By Elizabeth Preston A person trying to learn the way around a new neighborhood might spend time studying a map. You would probably not benefit from being carried rapidly through the air, upside-down in the dark. Yet that’s how some baby bats learn to navigate, according to a study published last month in Current Biology. As their mothers tote them on nightly trips between caves and certain trees, the bat pups gain the skills they need to get around when they grow up. Mothers of many bat species carry their young while flying, said Aya Goldshtein, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany. Egyptian fruit bats, for example, are attached to their mothers continuously for the first three weeks of life. While a mother searches for food, her pup clings to her body with two feet and its jaw, latching its teeth around her nipple. Mothers can still be seen flying with older pups that weigh 40 percent of what they do. It hadn’t been clear why the moms go to this length, instead of leaving pups in the cave where they roost, as some other species do. Dr. Goldshtein worked with Lee Harten, a behavioral ecologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where both she and Dr. Goldshtein were graduate students at the time in the lab of Yossi Yovel, a study co-author, to make sense of this maternal mystery. The researchers captured Egyptian fruit bat mothers and pups from a cave just outside Tel Aviv. They attached a tag holding a radio transmitter and miniature GPS device to each bat’s fur that would drop off after a couple of weeks. Then, the researchers brought the bats back to their cave. To track the bats, Dr. Harten held an antenna while standing on the roof of a 10-story building with a view of the cave. She directed Dr. Goldshtein, who was on foot or in a car with her own antenna, to follow the radio signals of bat pairs as they flew out at night. But again and again, there was a problem: The pup’s movement would suddenly stop, while the mother’s signal disappeared. “At the beginning we thought that we were doing our job wrong, and just losing the bats,” Dr. Harten said. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Animal Migration
Link ID: 28102 - Posted: 12.08.2021

By Sabrina Imbler The male Bornean rock frog cannot scream over the sound of a waterfall. Instead, he threatens other frogs with his feet. The frog intimidates his male competitors with a can-can-like gesture: kicking his leg up into the air, fully extending his splayed foot, and dragging it down toward the ground. This foot-flagging display may not sound threatening to a human, but its effect has to do with a frog’s visual perception. To a frog, the world contains two kinds of objects: things that are worms, and things that are not worms. If a frog sees a skinny object moving parallel to its long axis — like how a worm travels along the ground — it sees dinner. But if a frog sees a similar shape moving perpendicular its long axis — very unlike a worm — it sees a threat to flee from. Scientists call this latter movement the anti-worm stimulus, and it strikes fear into the hearts of frogs. Frogs likely evolved this visual system to hunt worms and stay safe from larger predators. Now, researchers suggest some male frogs have evolved to take advantage of their froggy brethren’s fears by kicking and lowering their legs in a gesture that looks a lot like an anti-worm signal, as a way to frighten their competition. In a paper published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers reveal that they could amplify the foot-flagging behavior of Bornean rock frogs by giving the frogs a dose of testosterone. The hormone acts on the muscles in the frog’s leg to exaggerate the gesture, meaning the more testosterone coursing through the frog, the bigger the foot-flagging display. This flamboyant foot display, intensified by the sex hormone, suggests the frogs evolved a way to exploit their competitors’ unusual visual system to appear more dangerous to other frogs. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28087 - Posted: 11.20.2021

By Jamie Friedlander Serrano My dad was planning a trip to Cannon Beach, a small coastal town in Oregon that I love. Yet when I sat down to email him some recommendations, I drew a blank. I couldn’t remember the name of the state park we visited or the breakfast spot we adored. Even the name of the hotel we stayed at eluded me. U.S. coronavirus cases tracker and map Since giving birth to my year-old daughter, I’ve had countless moments like this. I have trouble recalling words, forget to respond to text messages, and even missed an appointment. What I’m experiencing is often called “mommy brain”— the forgetful, foggy and scatterbrained feeling many pregnant women and new mothers experience. But is mommy brain real? Anecdotally, yes. Ask any new mom if she has felt the above, and she'll likely say she has — as many as 80 percent of new moms report feelings of mommy brain. Scientifically, it also appears the answer is yes: A growing body of research supports the argument that moms' brains change during pregnancy and after giving birth. A clear explanation for the phenomenon still remains somewhat elusive, however. There are countless variables that experts say contribute to mommy brain, such as fluctuating hormones postpartum, sleep deprivation in dealing with a new baby, anxiety over new parenthood, elevated stress levels, and a general of lives that having a baby forces. Put together, it’s only natural that changes in mental processing would occur, says Moriah Thomason, Barakett associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. When our brain needs to make space for a new priority — keeping a baby alive — remembering a grocery list takes a back seat. “Does it mean that you literally cannot do those things that you used to do as well? Probably not,” she says. “It’s just not the most important thing for you to be accessing.” © 1996-2021 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 28033 - Posted: 10.13.2021

Allison Aubrey The "diet" in diet drinks may be a false promise for some soda lovers. True, they deliver the fizz and taste of a soda experience, without the calories. Yet, new research shows they also can leave people with increased food cravings. A study published recently in JAMA Network Open adds to the evidence that drinks made with sucralose may stimulate the appetite, at least among some people, and the study gives some clues as to why. "We found that females and people with obesity had greater brain reward activity" after consuming the artificial sweetener, says study author Katie Page, a physician specializing in obesity at the University of Southern California. Both groups also had a reduction in the hormone that inhibits appetite, and they ate more food after they consumed drinks with sucralose, compared with after regular sugar-sweetened drinks. In contrast, the study found males and people of healthy weight did not have an increase in either brain reward activity or hunger response, suggesting they're not affected in the same way. The study notes that most earlier research focused on males and people of normal weight. But this finding suggests that diet drinks sweetened with sucralose could be disadvantageous to the people who could benefit most from an effective diet strategy. © 2021 npr

Keyword: Obesity; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 28027 - Posted: 10.09.2021

By Tara Ellison As menopause hit, I found I wasn’t as interested in intimacy as I used to be. Sex started to feel like a box that needed to be checked a couple of times a week, and that was causing problems in my marriage. But it wasn’t just sex. I felt was slowing down in many areas. After hot flashes in my 40s had sent me running to the gynecologist for help, I’d been using bioidentical creams to balance my declining hormones. When, at 51, I confided to a friend that I’d had limited success with what my doctor prescribed, she said that she was thriving on something called hormonal “pellets.” I grilled her about them and then made an appointment with her practitioner, an internal medicine doctor. He ordered extensive lab work, which showed that my testosterone levels were very low, which can happen with aging. The doctor said I had two options: do nothing, which he said would eventually likely lead to loss of muscle, decreased bone density and a host of other health complications. Or up my testosterone. Testosterone therapy for women is a hotly debated subject. Studies suggest that testosterone can heighten libido in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), at least in the short term. A recent statement by a group of international medical societies involved with women’s health endorsed the use of testosterone therapy in women for HSDD, and specifically excluded pellets and injectables as “not recommended.” It also cautioned there was not enough data to support the use of testosterone therapy for cognitive performance.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28009 - Posted: 09.29.2021

By Kimberly Hickok Seahorses are some of the most dazzling fish in the sea. They’re also the only group of animals in which the males, not the females, go through pregnancy and give birth. Now, new research finds the male’s brood pouch—which can hold up to 1000 baby seahorses at a time—develops and functions like a human placenta. “Evolution is just mind boggling,” says Camilla Whittington, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who led the new work. The study is the first to thoroughly examine how males nurture their young brood while they’re still in the pouch, says Mari Kawaguchi, an evolutionary biologist at Sophia University in Tokyo. Kawaguchi, who has studied seahorses for some 2 decades, has long suspected pregnant seahorses develop something resembling a placenta. Now, at last, there’s proof. Male seahorses start their path toward fatherhood with a dance. They twirl together with their chosen female under the water, changing colors and linking tails as they pirouette around a shared holdfast. Next, they align the female’s ovipositor with the male’s pouch opening so the female can deposit her eggs. Once the deed is done, the male gently sways to settle the eggs. Ten days to 6 weeks later, depending on the species, the male spends hours in labor, pumping and thrusting to force hundreds of tiny babies out into the water. There, they drift until they are grown. As for dad, he is ready for another round of courtship within hours after birth. But during pregnancy, males have one goal: Provide the embryos with everything they need, from oxygen to nutrients to antibodies. “One of the biggest challenges that all pregnant parents have is getting oxygen to their embryos and carbon dioxide away from the embryos,” Whittington says. “That’s really what motivated our study–how do those baby seahorses actually breathe, if you will, inside the brood pouch?” © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 28004 - Posted: 09.25.2021

By Leigh Weingus I’ve struggled with sleep since I was a teenager, and have spent almost as long trying to fix it. I’ve absorbed countless books and articles on getting better sleep that instructed me to go blue-light free at least two hours before bedtime, take nightly baths to lower my body temperature, keep my phone far from my bedroom and avoid caffeine after 12 p.m. In between all my diligent sleep hygiene work, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a larger force at play. My sleep seemed to change throughout my menstrual cycle, for example, getting worse in the days before my period and significantly better afterward. When I was pregnant, I experienced the best sleep of my life, and when I stopped breastfeeding, I didn’t sleep for days. I finally started to ask myself: When we talk about getting better sleep, why aren’t we talking more about hormones? According to the National Sleep Foundation, the lifetime risk of insomnia is 40 percent higher for women than it is for men. Blaming this discrepancy entirely on hormones oversimplifies it — women also tend to take on the bulk of household worrying and emotional labor, and they tend to experience higher levels of anxiety. But according to Mary Jane Minkin, an obstetrician-gynecologist and clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, anecdotal evidence and studies suggest that hormones likely play a role.

Keyword: Sleep; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28000 - Posted: 09.22.2021

By Joshua Rapp Learn Giraffes don’t fight much, says Jessica Granweiler, a master’s student at the University of Manchester in England who studies nature’s tallest mammals. When they do, look out. “Fighting is extremely rare because it’s extremely violent,” Ms. Granweiler said. When older adult males joust for territory or mating rights, their hornlike pairs of ossicones thrust with the force of their long necks and can cut into their opponents’ flesh, wounding and sometimes even killing a combatant. But some forms of giraffe dueling serve other purposes. In a study published last month in the journal Ethology, Ms. Granweiler and her colleagues reported some discoveries about sparring behavior that help giraffes establish social hierarchies. They showed that the animals didn’t take advantage of smaller members of their herds, but rather practiced their head butts with males of similar stature in ways that to a human might even appear fair or honorable. Such findings could aid in the conservation of the dwindling populations of the animals. Ms. Granweiler and her colleagues observed social behavior in giraffes at the small Mogalakwena River Reserve in South Africa from November 2016 to May 2017. They began to record the details of these fights — basically a who-fought-who, and how in the giraffe world. They were surprised to find that giraffes, like humans, can be righties or southpaws when it comes to sparring. Even the youngest animals showed a clear preference, although unlike humans it seemed they were evenly split between lefties and righties. The researchers also noticed that the younger males sparred more with each other, and nearly always chose opponents similar in size to themselves — there wasn’t a lot of bullying going on. A bar brawl effect went on as well, where one sparring match seemed to infect the crowd and prompt more fights around them. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27997 - Posted: 09.18.2021

by Rachel Zamzow The X chromosome holds stronger-than-expected genetic sway over the structure of several brain regions, a new study finds. The X-linked genes that may underlie this oversized influence have ties to autism and intellectual disability. “There were already hints that the X chromosome was likely to be conspicuous, with how involved it is with the brain,” says lead investigator Armin Raznahan, chief of the section on developmental neurogenomics at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. Many X chromosome genes — including those at the root of several autism-related conditions, such as fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome — are expressed in the brain, for example. But the new findings suggest that the X chromosome, despite containing only 5 percent of the human genome, has a privileged role in shaping the brain — one that may be particularly relevant to developmental conditions. What’s more, this influence may be stronger in men than in women, the study shows. “What they’re showing is X is fundamentally different,” says David Glahn, professor of psychology at Harvard University, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s off the scale.” Research over the past decade has linked genetic variation to shifts in brain features, such as overall size or patterns of connectivity between regions, Glahn says. But “the X chromosome and the Y chromosome are fundamentally understudied,” because including them requires extra analytical legwork, he says. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 27992 - Posted: 09.15.2021

Nicola Davis Premature babies appear to feel less pain during medical procedures when they are spoken to by their mothers, researchers have found. Babies that are born very early often have to spend time in neonatal intensive care units, and may need several painful clinical procedures. The situation can also mean lengthy separation from parents. Now researchers say they have found the sound of a mother’s voice seems to decrease the pain experienced by their baby during medical procedures. Dr Manuela Filippa, of the University of Geneva and first author of the study, said the research might not only help parents, by highlighting that they can play an important role while their baby is in intensive care, but also benefit the infants. Advertisement Last man out: the haunting image of America’s final moments in Afghanistan “We are trying to find non-pharmacological ways to lower the pain in these babies,” she said, adding that there was a growing body of evidence that parental contact with preterm babies could be important for a number of reasons, including attachment. Filippa said the team focused on voice because it was not always possible for parents to hold their babies in intensive care, while voice could be a powerful tool to share emotion. Mothers’ voices were studied in particular because infants would already have heard it in the womb. But Filippa said that did not mean a father’s voice could not become as familiar over time. “We are [also] running studies on fathers’ vocal contacts,” she said. Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Filippa and colleagues at the University of Geneva, Parini hospital in Italy and the University of Valle d’Aosta, report how they examined the pain responses of 20 premature babies in neonatal intensive care to a routine procedure in which the foot is pricked and a few drops of blood collected. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27973 - Posted: 09.01.2021

By Carolyn Wilke Some female hummingbirds don flashy feathers to avoid being bothered by other hummingbirds, a new study suggests. Male white-necked jacobin hummingbirds (Florisuga mellivora) have bright blue heads and throats. Females tend to have more drab hues, but some sport the blue coloring too. Appearing fit and fine to impress potential mates can often explain animals’ vibrant colors. But mate choice doesn’t seem to drive these females’ pretty plumage since males don’t appear to prefer the blue females. Instead, bright colors may help lady birds blend in with the guys, and as a result, feed for longer without harassment from other hummingbirds, researchers report August 26 in Current Biology. Beyond vying for mates, animals often also compete for territory, parental attention, social ranks and food (SN: 4/7/16). Mating choices don’t capture all those other interactions and can’t always explain animals’ looks, says Jay Falk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. To begin investigating why some female jacobins have colorful blue plumage, Falk and colleagues captured and released over 400 of the birds in Gamboa, Panama, using genetics to determine their sex. Most females had drab colors — olive green heads and backs and mottled throats. But nearly 30 percent of females had the shimmery blue noggins that all juveniles have and that are characteristic of adult males. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27969 - Posted: 08.28.2021

By Teresa Carr In the fall of 2016, sex therapist and researcher Leonore Tiefer shuttered the New View Campaign, an organization she had founded to combat what she refers to as “the medicalization of sex” — essentially, the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to define variations in sexuality and sexual problems as medical issues requiring a drug fix. For 16 years, the group had fought against industry’s involvement in sex research, including its push for a drug to boost women’s sex drives. New View hosted conferences and its members penned papers and testified before the United States Food and Drug Administration. The campaign was prominently featured in an 80-minute documentary called Orgasm Inc, and promoted a clever (if off-pitch) video advising women to “throw that pink pill away,” a reference to the female-libido drug flibanserin (Addyi), which was seeking FDA approval at the time. New View counted some successes: The FDA didn’t approve an allegedly libido-boosting testosterone patch for women, on the grounds that the patch’s slim benefits didn’t outweigh its risks, and the FDA twice rejected flibanserin for the same reason. But in August 2015, the agency reversed itself and approved the so-called pink Viagra. “I felt we’d said everything we had to say,” said Tiefer of ending the campaign. Advocates predicted FDA approval would be sought for additional women’s libido drugs, but the group felt there was nothing they could do to stop it. “However many more drugs were going to come down the pike,” said Tiefer, “it was just going to be more of the same.”

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27948 - Posted: 08.14.2021

Jake Buehler As the midday sun hangs over the Scandinavian spruce forest, a swarm of hopeful suitors takes to the air. They are dance flies, and it is time to attract a mate. Zigzagging and twirling, the flies show off their wide, darkened wings and feathery leg scales. They inflate their abdomens like balloons, making themselves look bigger and more appealing to a potential partner. Suddenly, the swarm electrifies with excitement at the arrival of a new fly, the one they have all been waiting for: a male. It’s time for the preening flock of females to shine. The flies are flipping the classic drama reenacted across the animal kingdom, in which eager males with dazzling plumage, snarls of antlers or other extraordinary traits compete for a chance to woo a reluctant female. Such competitions between males for the favor of choosy females are enshrined in evolutionary theory as “sexual selection,” with the females’ choices molding the evolution of the males’ instruments of seduction over generations. Yet it’s becoming clear that this traditional picture of sexual selection is woefully incomplete. Dramatic and obvious reversals of the selection scenario, like that of the dance flies, aren’t often observed in nature, but recent research suggests that throughout the tree of animal life, females jockey for the attention of males far more than was believed. A new study hosted on the preprint server biorxiv.org has found that in animals as diverse as sea urchins and salamanders, females are subject to sexual selection — not as harshly as males are, but enough to make biologists rethink the balance of evolutionary forces shaping species in their accounts of the history of life. All Rights Reserved © 2021

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27934 - Posted: 08.07.2021

Katharine Sanderson Liz Williams was standing pitchside at a women’s rugby match, and she did not like what she was seeing. Williams, who researches forensic biomechanics at Swansea University, UK, had equipped some of the players with a mouthguard that contained a sensor to measure the speed of head movement. She wanted to understand more about head injuries in the brutal sport. “There were a few instances when my blood went cold,” Williams said. When the women fell in a tackle, their heads would often whiplash into the ground. The sensors showed that the skull was accelerating — indicating an increased risk of brain injury. But medical staff at the match, not trained to look out for this type of head movement as a cause of injury, deemed the women fine to play on. Such whiplash injuries are much rarer when males play. Williams’ observations highlight an increasingly apparent problem. A growing body of data suggests that female athletes are at significantly greater risk of a traumatic brain injury event than male athletes. They also fare worse after a concussion and take longer to recover. As researchers gather more data, the picture becomes steadily more alarming. Female athletes are speaking out about their own experiences, including Sue Lopez, the United Kingdom’s first semi-professional female football player in the 1970s, who now has dementia — a diagnosis she has linked to concussions from heading the ball. Researchers have offered some explanations for the greater risk to women, although the science is at an early stage. Their ideas range from differences in the microstructure of the brain to the influence of hormones, coaching regimes, players’ level of experience and the management of injuries. © 2021 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27932 - Posted: 08.04.2021

By Kim Tingley During menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles, her ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, bringing an end to her natural childbearing years. But those hormones also regulate how the brain functions, and the brain governs their release — meaning that menopause is a neurological process as well. “Many of the symptoms of menopause cannot possibly be directly produced by the ovaries, if you think about the hot flashes, the night sweats, the anxiety, the depression, the insomnia, the brain fog,” says Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of its Women’s Brain Initiative. “Those are brain symptoms, and we should look at the brain as something that is impacted by menopause at least as much as your ovaries are.” In June, Mosconi and her colleagues published in the journal Scientific Reports one of the few studies to observe in detail what happens to the brain throughout the menopause transition, not just before and after. Using various neuroimaging techniques, they scanned the brains of more than 160 women between the ages of 40 and 65 who were in different stages of the transition to examine the organ’s structure, blood flow, metabolism and function; they did many of the same scans two years later. They also imaged the brains of men in the same age range. “What we found in women and not in men is that the brain changes quite a lot,” Mosconi says. “The transition of menopause really leads to a whole remodeling.” On average, women in the United States enter the menopause transition — defined as the first 12 consecutive months without a period — at around 50; once diagnosed, they are in postmenopause. But they may begin to have hormonal fluctuations in their 40s. (For some women, this happens in their 30s, and surgical removal of the ovaries causes immediate menopause, as do some cancer treatments.) Those fluctuations cause irregular periods and potentially a wide variety of symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, trouble concentrating and changes in sexual arousal. During this phase, known as perimenopause, which averages four years in length (but can last from several months to a decade), Mosconi and colleagues observed that their female subjects experienced a loss of both gray matter (the brain cells that process information) and white matter (the fibers that connect those cells). Postmenopause, however, that loss stopped, and in some cases brain volume increased, though not to its premenopausal size. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27917 - Posted: 07.21.2021

By Elizabeth Pennisi In hyenas as well as humans, it pays to be born to high-ranking parents. A new study reveals how power is passed down in these matriarchal mammals: Elite hyena cubs cultivate their mom’s friends, who help keep them fed and protected throughout their lives. The work drives home the role moms and dads play in shaping the social world of their children, says Josh Firth, a social networks researcher at the University of Oxford who was not involved with the study. “We tend to think about who we are connected to as a product of our doing, but it’s a product of our parents as well.” Chimpanzees, hyenas, and other social animals live in hierarchical societies. Those at the top eat first, and are typically surrounded by a gang that protects them from other members of their species that try to challenge their status. High rank tends to be inherited, but it’s been unclear how subsequent generations end up with the same type of ruling clan their parents do. Do they recruit their own powerful allies, or inherit them? Erol Akçay, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and behavioral ecologist Amiyaal Ilany, now at Bar-Ilan University, decided to analyze the work of Kay Holekamp. A behavioral ecologist at Michigan State University, Holekamp’s team had been following the lives of a clan of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in Kenya for almost 30 years. Day after day, the researchers have recorded the activity of the hyenas, including their interactions with and proximity to other hyenas, to understand the species’ behavior and ecology. They have also kept track of the pedigrees and social status of each female and its offspring. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27912 - Posted: 07.17.2021