A study out of Stanford University Medical Center indicates trauma affects the brains of teenage males and females differently.
Brain scans reveal that part of the insula, an area involved in processing emotion and empathy, is altered in youth with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These alterations affect an individual’s ability to integrate feelings, and actions.
“The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD,” said senior study author Victor Carrion, M.D. “The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls...may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes.”
The study participants were 59 boys and girls aged 9 to 17. Half of them, 14 girls and 16 boys, had experienced one or more traumatic events, and demonstrated trauma symptoms. The remaining 29 were trauma-free. All participants had similar IQs.
Researchers found no brain structure differences among the males and females in the control (non-traumatized) group. However, there was a difference in the anterior circular sulcus portion of the insula in traumatized boys and girls. This brain region had greater volume and surface area in traumatized males than in control groups males, but the volume and surface area were smaller in the traumatized females than among females in the control group.
“It is important that people who work with traumatized youth consider the sex differences,” said the study’s lead author Megan Klabunde, Ph.D. “Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment.”
Since a smaller insula volume is normally seen as teens grow older, the study implies, for instance, that trauma induced stress could trigger accelerated aging of the insula in girls developing PTSD.
The researchers also point out their work may lead to a greater understanding of differences in emotional regulation between the sexes following traumatic experiences. This may speed the development of sex-specific treatments for post-trauma emotional distress.
Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Garry Knight