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Open Access Review

Turning sex inside-out: Peripheral contributions to sexual differentiation of the central nervous system

Ashlyn Swift-Gallant1, Lee Niel2 and D Ashley Monks1345*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, ON, Canada

2 Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

3 Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

4 Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

5 Neuroscience Program, University of Toronto, AA, ON, Canada

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Biology of Sex Differences 2012, 3:12  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-3-12

Published: 28 May 2012

Abstract

Sexual differentiation of the nervous system occurs via the interplay of genetics, endocrinology and social experience through development. Much of the research into mechanisms of sexual differentiation has been driven by an implicit theoretical framework in which these causal factors act primarily and directly on sexually dimorphic neural populations within the central nervous system. This review will examine an alternative explanation by describing what is known about the role of peripheral structures and mechanisms (both neural and non-neural) in producing sex differences in the central nervous system. The focus of the review will be on experimental evidence obtained from studies of androgenic masculinization of the spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus, but other systems will also be considered.

Keywords:
Brain; Spinal cord; Sexual differentiation; Androgen receptor; Spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus; Neuromuscular; Sexual behavior