Sunday, March 05, 2000

More cells found in men's brains

UC researcher: Women have 2 billion fewers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A University of Cincinnati scientist has determined men have about 2 billion more brain cells than women.

        While that might make men less susceptible to debilitating mental illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia as they grow older, it doesn't make them any smarter than women.

        “It helps explain why males have better spatial orientation ... if you give them a three-dimensional object to look at,” said Dr. Gabrielle M. de Courten-Myers, who worked with scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to count neurons in the cerebral cortex. “Women have more advantages with complex languages.”

        She said having more neurons may help men solve problems or sense directions.

        Dr. de Courten-Myers described the nerve cells in the cortex as a tree, and the synapses that carry information between cells as branches.

        “The male is more like a spruce tree, with lots of branches. The female cell is

        more like an oak tree with strong branches,” she said.

        When branches wither in the winter of life, Dr. de Courten-Myers said, women become more susceptible to dementia-type illnesses because men have more neurons.

        But women may have the advantage early in life, she said, adding that more men are born mentally retarded and with learning disabilities.

        “I believe this is because of the neurons, but I have not proved this yet,” Dr. de Courten-Myers said, ex plaining that neurons damaged before birth are unable to be repaired — leaving some men with dead or damaged branches.

        She presented her findings — which were the focus of a 1999 article in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology — during a workshop on gender differences in the brain at the University of Cincinnati, where she has worked for 20 years.

        Dr. de Courten-Myers said her work was mostly reviewing computer data, and credited Dr. Ted Rabinowicz, chief of neuropathology at Lau sanne University, with isolating and analyzing samples.

        Funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health and the Swiss National Research Foundation, the research team sliced up the brains of 11 cadavers and counted nerve cells sealed in beeswax slides.

        They learned the average human brain has about 23 billion nerve cells. Males averaged 299,052 neurons per square millimeter on the surface of a brain slice about 3 millimeters thick. Females averaged 264,892.


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