Chapter 8. Hormones and Sex
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By Virginia Morell Standing 2 meters tall and weighing as much as 1000 kilograms, European bison (Bison bonasus) are impressive animals. These cousins of the American bison—nearly driven to extinction in the last century—are being reintroduced in small herds across Europe, leading some farmers and forest managers to worry that the large herbivores will destroy their habitat. To better understand how the bison decide when and where to move, scientists studied a herd of 43 individuals in the Reserve Biologique des Monts-d’Azur in the Alpes-Maritimes region of France. They recorded the animals’ movements for 4 hours daily, identifying leaders, what type of action led others to follow, and where the herd moved. The herd wasn’t guided by a single leader, the scientists report in the November issue of Animal Behaviour. Instead, any individual regardless of sex or age could prompt the group to move, although most decisions were made by adult females—as is the case with most ungulates. A bison shows that it plans to change its location by taking at least 20 steps without stopping or lowering its head to graze. A potential leader was most likely to be followed if it walked in the direction that most of the others were facing—suggesting that bison vote with their feet. The researchers suspect that most leaders are adult females because they require higher quality food when lactating or pregnant. Wildlife managers can use this research to reduce human-bison conflicts, the scientists say. They need only identify a herd’s leaders, fit them with GPS collars, and install a virtual fence of alarms and electrical shocks. It should then be possible to control the leaders’ movements—and, thus, those of the entire herd.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21432 - Posted: 09.23.2015
Nancy Shute There have been suggestions that low levels of vitamin D might be a factor in cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, but there's no proof that the lack of D is actually causing the problems. A study published Monday doesn't prove that link, but it does find that people with low levels of vitamin D lost key thinking skills more quickly than people with enough. The study is notable because of the diversity of the participants: 62 percent were women, 30 percent were African-American, 25 percent Hispanic and 41 percent white. Most earlier studies looking at cognitive decline and vitamin D were in white people. The participants lived in California's Sacramento Valley and were mostly in their 70s when they entered the study. The researchers followed up with them for about five years, having them take annual neurological exams and neuropsychological testing at the University of California, Davis, Alzheimer's Disease Center. Most of the 382 people in the study were low on vitamin D, tested by measuring 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood. One-quarter of the participants were deficient in vitamin D, and 35 percent had levels deemed insufficient. That's not a surprise — most older people are below the "adequate" level of 20 to less than 50 ng/ml, often because they're not outside much. And most of the people in the study weren't getting the recommended three servings of dairy foods daily that could help. © 2015 NPR
By Emily DeMarco When it comes to finding a mate in the animal kingdom, females tend to gravitate toward males who appear strong and healthy. But a new study in zebra finches reveals that the small, gray-striped birds prefer mates with similar interests, such as a penchant for exploring the world. The drive for this compatibility is so strong that when scientists forced the females to mate up with males not of their choosing, the birds were more likely to cheat and shirk their parental duties, leading to more deaths among their chicks. The research “suggests that having a mate you’re behaviorally compatible with is very important from an evolutionary perspective for zebra finches,” says behavioral ecologist Sasha Dall of the University of Exeter, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom, who wasn’t involved in the study. Scientists have long been puzzled by female zebra finches. As opposed to females of other bird species, which tend to prefer males with brighter plumage or longer tails (traits that suggest that the males have good, healthy genes), female zebra finches seem to choose mates for some mysterious reason known only to each lady bird. Sometimes one will go for the guy with the bright red beak, sometimes the male with the thrilling song, sometimes neither. So what’s really driving this mate choice? In the past, scientists have speculated that a desire for compatibility might be the answer. But they have disagreed over whether the birds are on the lookout for males with the right genes (genetic compatibility between the partners might help lower the high rates of embryonic mortality seen in the species) or the right behaviors. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21412 - Posted: 09.15.2015
By Elizabeth Landau Ask a physician what the hormone vasopressin is good for, and she will explain that it regulates the volume of water in your body and also affects blood pressure. But since the 1990s, vasopressin has been a hot topic in a very different field: social behavior. And recently it has emerged as a possible target for treating autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which are characterized by social, behavioral and communication impairments. The research is still in early stages, however, and has yielded more questions than answers. Given that one out of 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder, researchers are scrambling to figure out what in the brain might be related to the symptoms, and how they might design an effective treatment. Vasopressin may be a key player in the disorder. But scientists do not yet know whether too much or too little of the hormone—or perhaps some combination of both—is tied to autism. New clinical trials may yield insights. “I think that the work is exciting and important” says Suma Jacob, who leads an autism research laboratory at the University of Minnesota. “I also think we still have a lot more work to do in this field as a whole.” Previous research has shown that vasopressin, like the hormone oxytocin, is associated with parenting behavior and social bonding, including falling in love. In fact, the two hormones are structurally very similar, and there are receptors in the brain that interact with both of them. But high levels of vasopressin are also associated with anxiety and aggression. Intriguingly, some animal studies have found that higher levels of vasopressin increased aggression specifically in males. © 2015 Scientific American
By Susan Milius The larger Pacific striped octopus hunts shrimp using a strategy worthy of a schoolyard prank. And that’s not the only oddity about the species. It’s only the second octopus known with females that prolong motherhood, instead of dying after weeks of all-out coddling a single brood. But what everyone wants to talk about, researchers who study the species have found, is beak-to-beak mating. Before writhing, wrestling videos of the larger Pacific striped octopus (nicknamed LPSO), biologists knew of two forms of eight-armed sex. Some species mate at a distance, says Roy Caldwell of the University of California, Berkeley. The male extends one arm, always the same one, toward the female and up under her mantle. A travel-ready package of sperm emerges onto his skin and settles into a specialized groove on his mating arm. Waves of arm flexing resembling mammal intestinal motions nudge the packet toward one of two openings to her reproductive tracts. “It’s a messy way of reproducing,” Caldwell says. A lot of sperm packets “are wasted and go floating off.” Distance mating has other challenges. In an Indonesian octopus species, Caldwell’s former student Christine Huffard of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered males hunkered in their dens sending an arm across the seafloor into the den of the female next door. On occasion, such females leave their dens on some octopus errand, dragging the male along by his mating arm. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21389 - Posted: 09.09.2015
By Amy Ellis Nutt There may finally be an explanation for why men are often less verbally adept than women at expressing themselves. It's the testosterone. Scientists have long known that language development is different between boys and girls. But in scanning the brains of 18 individuals before and after undergoing hormone treatment for female-to-male sex reassignment, Austrian and Dutch researchers found evidence of specific brain structure differences. In particular, they found two areas in the left hemispheres of the transgender men that lost gray matter volume during high-testosterone treatment over a period of four weeks: Broca's area, which is involved in the production of language, and Wernicke's area, which processes language. All of which suggests, according to the study, which was presented this week at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress, why verbal abilities are often stronger in women than men. "In more general terms, these findings may suggest that a genuine difference between the brains of women and men is substantially attributable to the effects of circulating hormones," said one of the researchers at the conference, Rupert Lanzenberger from Vienna. "Moreover, the hormonal influence on human brain structure goes beyond the early developmental phase and is still present in adulthood." Previous research has shown that higher testosterone is linked to smaller vocabulary in children and also that verbal fluency skills seemed to decrease after female-to-male sex reassignment testosterone treatment.
Shankar Vedantam Girls often outperform boys in science and math at an early age but are less likely to choose tough courses in high school. An Israeli experiment demonstrates how biases of teachers affect students. RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: At early ages, girls often outperform boys in math and science classes. Later, something changes. By the time they get into high school, girls are less likely than boys to take difficult math courses and less likely, again, to go into careers in science, technology, engineering or medicine. To learn more about this, David Greene spoke with NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Well, the new study suggests, David, that some of these outcomes might be driven by the unconscious biases of elementary school teachers. What's remarkable about the new work is it doesn't just theorize about the gender gap, it actually has very hard evidence. Edith Sand at Tel Aviv University and her colleague, Victor Lavy, analyzed the math test scores of about 3,000 students in Tel Aviv. When the students were in sixth grade, the researchers got two sets of math test scores. One set of scores were given by the classroom teachers, who obviously knew the children whom they were grading. The second set of scores were from external teachers who did not know if the children they were grading were either boys or girls. So the external teachers were blind to the gender of the children. © 2015 NPR
They are rather diminutive to be kings of the jungle, but two species of mirid bug make sounds similar to the roars of big cats. These calls have never before been heard in insects, and we’re not sure why, or how, the insects produce the eerie calls. The roars are too weak to be heard by humans without a bit of help. But Valerio Mazzoni of the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy and his team made them audible by amplifying them using a device called a laser vibrometer. The device detects the minute vibrations that the bugs produce on the leaves on which they live. “When you listen to these sounds through headphones you’d think you were next to a tiger or lion,” Mazzoni. The team found that when two males were introduced on the same leaf, they seemed to compete in roaring duets. When one insect heard a roar, it always sounded its own, apparently in response. This suggests that, as in big cats, the roars might serve to establish dominance or attract females. Female mirids don’t seem to roar. But unlike the roars of big cats, the sounds produced by bugs are transmitted through the solid material beneath their feet, usually a leaf, rather than by the vibration of air molecules. Thousands of insect species communicate through such vibration, but these roars are unlike any other known insect noise. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Nell Greenfieldboyce Picking a mate can be one of life's most important decisions. But sometimes people make a choice that seems to make no sense at all. And humans aren't the only ones — scientists have now seen apparently irrational romantic decisions in frogs. Little tungara frogs live in Central America, and they're found everywhere from forests to ditches to parking lot puddles. These frogs are only about 2 centimeters long, but they are loud. The males make calls to woo the females. Amanda Lea, a biologist in the laboratory of Mike Ryan at the University of Texas, Austin, says past studies have given scientists a pretty good idea of what the females find appealing. "They tend to like longer calls. They also like lower-frequency calls," says Lea. "Then, the other thing that's a really big one for these gals is the 'call rate.' They love faster call rates. The faster a male can call, the better." But in real life, love is complicated. Female frogs face countless suitors. So Lea and Ryan wondered: Would a female really always pick the male that scored highest on the froggy love-call meter? To find out, they put female frogs in a room with some loudspeakers. From one speaker the scientists played a recording of frog call that had a really fast rate. But other features in this voice were less attractive. Then the researchers played a second, different call for the female frogs. This voice was more attractive, but it was slower. The ladies had to make a choice. "They have two traits to evaluate," Lea explains. "They have the call rate and they have the attractiveness of the call." © 2015 NPR
Christopher Joyce Male treehoppers make their abdomens thrum like tuning forks to transmit very particular vibrating signals that travel down their legs and along leaf stems to other bugs — male and female. Male treehoppers make their abdomens thrum like tuning forks to transmit very particular vibrating signals that travel down their legs and along leaf stems to other bugs — male and female. Courtesy of Robert Oelman Animals, including humans, feel sound as well as hear it, and some of the most meaningful audio communication happens at frequencies that people can't hear. Elephants, for example, use these low-frequency rumbles to, among other things, find family or a mate across long distances. Whales do it, too. But you don't have to weigh a ton to rumble. In fact, you don't have to be bigger than a pea. Consider, for example, the treehopper, a curious little sap-sucking insect that lives on the stems of leaves. Or the tree cricket, which communicates by rubbing together tooth-like structures on its wings, the way you might draw your thumb across the teeth of a comb. University of Missouri biologist Rex Cocroft has spent much of his career listening closely to treehoppers. In 1999, a team from NPR's Radio Expeditions program rendezvoused with Cocroft at a locust tree in a backyard in Virginia. Soft-spoken and bespectacled, he was pressing a phonograph needle up against the stem of a leaf. © 2015 NPR
By Melinda Wenner Moyer As many as four out of every five pregnant women say that they suffer from “pregnancy brain”—deficits in memory and cognitive ability that arise during pregnancy, making women more forgetful and slow-witted. Yet studies on the phenomenon have generally not supported these claims: although some have found evidence of problems on certain types of tasks, others, including a recent paper published by researchers in Utah, have found no signs of cognitive problems at all. Some experts believe that pregnancy brain and its postnatal cousin, “baby brain,” could largely be a product of confirmation bias: pregnant women and new moms expect to experience brain fog and therefore believe they are actually affected. Others argue that the mental symptoms might simply be too difficult to confirm in a laboratory setting. In the most recent study, researchers at Brigham Young University gave cognitive and neuropsychological tests to 21 women in their third trimester of pregnancy and then tested them again six months after they gave birth. They administered the same tests at similar intervals to 21 women who had never been pregnant. They found no differences between the groups no matter when they were tested, including before and after giving birth. These findings mesh with those from a 2003 study, which found that pregnant women did not score differently from nonpregnant women on tests of verbal memory, divided attention and focused attention. “There is variety in the results, but overall most studies suggest there are few to no memory impairments associated with pregnancy,” says Michael Larson, a psychologist at Brigham Young and a co-author of the recent paper. He thinks the reason the myth persists may be that women selectively look for evidence that supports the cultural expectation. © 2015 Scientific American
A placebo can make you feel a little better – and now we know how to boost the effect. Drugs based on hormones that make us more cooperative seem to enhance the placebo effect. The finding could lead to changes in the way some trials are performed. Sometimes a sugar pill can be all you need, even when you know it doesn’t contain any medicine. We’re still not entirely sure why. The brain’s natural painkillers, such as dopamine and opioids, seem to be involved, but other factors may be at work too. Evidence that a compassionate, trustworthy carer can speed recovery suggests that there is also a social dimension to the placebo effect. “This interaction between the patient and care provider seems to be based on a more complex system,” says Luana Colloca at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Hormones that modulate our social behaviour might play a role. Last year, a team led by Ulrike Bingel of the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany, found that oxytocin – the so-called “cuddle chemical” that is thought to help us trust, bond and form relationships – seems to boost the placebo effect, at least in men. In the study, Bingel’s team applied an inert ointment to the arms of male volunteers. Half of them were told that the cream would reduce the degree of pain caused by the painfully hot stimulus subsequently applied. Men who were told that they were receiving pain relief said that the heat was less painful than those who knew that the cream was inert. When oxytocin was squirted up volunteers’ noses, the men reported being in even less pain. The team didn’t test oxytocin in women. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Esther Landhuis The birth of a child leaves its mark on the brain. Most investigations of these changes have focused on mothers, but scientists have recently begun looking more closely at fathers. Neural circuits that support parental behaviors appear more robust in moms a few weeks after the baby is born, whereas in dads the growth can take several months. A study in Social Neuroscience analyzed 16 dads several weeks after their baby's birth and again a few months later. At each check, the researchers administered a multiple-choice test to check for signs of depression and used MRI to image the brain. Compared with the earlier scans, MRI at three to four months postpartum showed growth in the hypothalamus, amygdala and other regions that regulate emotion, motivation and decision making. Furthermore, dads with more growth in these brain areas were less likely to show depressive symptoms, says first author Pilyoung Kim, who directs the Family and Child Neuroscience Lab at the University of Denver. Although some physiological brain changes are similar in new moms and dads, other changes seem different and could relate to the roles of each parent, says senior author James Swain, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan (brain diagrams below). A 2014 behavioral study of expectant fathers showed that midpregnancy ultrasound imaging was a “magic moment” in the dads' emerging connection with their baby. Yet the emotional bond was different than it is in expectant moms. Instead of thinking about cuddling or feeding the baby, dads-to-be focused on the future: they imagined saving money for a college fund or walking down the aisle at their daughter's wedding. © 2015 Scientific American
By Hanae Armitage The libido enhancement drug flibanserin (trade name Addyi) took center stage last week after winning long-sought approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The coverage from advocates and nonbelievers has run the gamut—advice, caution, and criticism likely to confuse undecided—but curious—onlookers. But exactly how Addyi drums up sex drive is still murky. The drug has a long backstory. It was originally investigated in 1995 by pharmacologist Franco Borsini and a team of researchers at Boehringer Ingelheim Italia in Milan as an antidepressant because of its ability to regulate neurotransmitters—the brain’s chemical-signaling molecules. In particular, the team suspected that the drug regulated three key neurotransmitters thought to influence mood: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. A clinical trial found it did little to alleviate depression, but did seem to have an effect on mood. It just wasn’t the mood the researchers were expecting. These early trials tipped clinicians to flibanserin’s more prominent role in sexual health, as female subjects had higher scores on the Arizona Sexual Experience Scale, a survey that asks participants to rate their satisfaction on a variety of sexual health topics, like how often participants felt sexual desire and how intense that desire was. A separate group of researchers, also at Boehringer Ingelheim, completed their first clinical trials to explore flibanserin as a libido-enhancer in 2008. They measured levels of desire through a journal-based evaluation in which subjects recorded their levels of sexual drive on a daily basis. But FDA twice concluded that the resulting increases in libido were not statistically significant, and regulators were wary of potentially dangerous side effects like dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, and fainting. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21332 - Posted: 08.25.2015
Richard A. Friedman THANKS to Caitlyn Jenner, and the military’s changing policies, transgender people are gaining acceptance — and living in a bigger, more understanding spotlight than at any previous time. We’re learning to be more accepting of transgender individuals. And we’re learning more about gender identity, too. The prevailing narrative seems to be that gender is a social construct and that people can move between genders to arrive at their true identity. But if gender were nothing more than a social convention, why was it necessary for Caitlyn Jenner to undergo facial surgeries, take hormones and remove her body hair? The fact that some transgender individuals use hormone treatment and surgery to switch gender speaks to the inescapable biology at the heart of gender identity. This is not to suggest that gender identity is simply binary — male or female — or that gender identity is inflexible for everyone. Nor does it mean that conventional gender roles always feel right; the sheer number of people who experience varying degrees of mismatch between their preferred gender and their body makes this very clear. In fact, recent neuroscience research suggests that gender identity may exist on a spectrum and that gender dysphoria fits well within the range of human biological variation. For example, Georg S. Kranz at the Medical University of Vienna and colleagues elsewhere reported in a 2014 study in The Journal of Neuroscience that individuals who identified as transsexuals — those who wanted sex reassignment — had structural differences in their brains that were between their desired gender and their genetic sex. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21329 - Posted: 08.24.2015
By Kazi Stastna The U.S. approval of a pill to treat low libido in women has whipped up a whirlwind of debate and raised questions about whether the so-called female Viagra addresses the real reasons for lack of sexual desire. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week approved flibanserin, to be sold under the name Addyi starting in October, for the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) among premenopausal women — some two decades after Viagra was approved for the treatment of male erectile dysfunction. Sprout Pharmaceuticals pitched flibanserin as a drug that would finally give women with sexual dysfunction similar treatment options to men and bused dozens of women to FDA hearings in Maryland to attest to its benefits and plead for its approval in what some saw as a heavy-handed and misleading public relations campaign. The FDA gave flibanserin the OK after twice rejecting it and despite concerns about its risks and modest efficacy because it said women suffering distress from low libido have an "unmet medical need." Days after it did, Canadian pharmaceutical company Valeant offered to buy Sprout for $1 billion US and said it will apply to get flibanserin approved in Canada and other countries. Although often likened to Viagra, flibanserin was created as an antidepressant and works on the brain while erectile dysfunction medications stimulate blood flow to the penis. Critics argue it's an ineffectual pharmacological solution for a problem better treated with relationship counselling, sex therapy and behavioural changes. "Their suffering is real, but the women who testified had a lot of different stories, and some of those stories were very good reasons for having low libido, including having six children, having a one-year-old, having had breast cancer treatment …," says Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and director of PharmedOut, a pharmaceutical marketing watchdog group. ©2015 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21328 - Posted: 08.24.2015
By ANDREW POLLACK The first prescription drug to enhance women’s sexual drive won regulatory approval on Tuesday, clinching a victory for a lobbying campaign that had accused the Food and Drug Administration of gender bias for ignoring the sexual needs of women. The drug — Addyi from Sprout Pharmaceuticals — is actually the first drug approved to treat a flagging or absent libido for either sex. Viagra and other drugs available for men are approved to help achieve erections, or to treat certain deficiencies of the hormone testosterone, not to increase desire. Advocates who pressed for approval of Addyi, many of them part of a coalition called Even the Score, said that a drug to improve women’s sex lives was long overdue, given the many options available to men. “This is the biggest breakthrough for women’s sexual health since the pill,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. But critics said the campaign behind Addyi had made a mockery of the system that regulates pharmaceuticals and had co-opted the women’s movement to pressure the F.D.A. into approving a drug that was at best minimally effective and could cause side effects like low blood pressure, fainting, nausea, dizziness and sleepiness. In announcing the approval, Dr. Janet Woodcock, a senior F.D.A. official, said the agency was “committed to supporting the development of safe and effective treatments for female sexual dysfunction.” The F.D.A. decision on Tuesday was not a surprise since an advisory committee of outside experts had recommended by a vote of 18 to 6 in June that the drug be approved, albeit with precautions required to try to limit the risks and ensure that it was not overused. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21311 - Posted: 08.19.2015
Geoff Brumfiel Learning to make sounds by listening to others is a skill that helps make us human. But research now suggests a species of monkey may have evolved similar abilities. Marmosets have the capacity to learn calls from their parents, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science. The results mean that studying marmosets might provide insights into developmental disorders found in humans. It also suggests that vocal learning may be more widespread than many researchers thought. Many animals can link sounds with meaning. Dogs respond to simple calls; chimpanzees can even communicate with people using sign language. But the ability to hear a sound and mimic it is possessed by only a small number of species: primarily song birds and humans. "We didn't think that mammals and primates in particular — besides us — had any type of vocal learning," says Asif Ghazanfar, a neuroscientist at Princeton University who led the new study. Enter the small, adorable common marmoset. These fuzzy South American primates look more like squirrels than a monkey. "They're cute, and they smell. They wash themselves in their own urine," Ghazanfar says. "I'm not sure why they do that." But once you get over the stink, these little guys are interesting. Marmoset mommies always give birth to twins and they need help rearing them. So, unlike many mammal species, fathers lend a hand, along with siblings and other community members. Ghazanfar thinks all that child care is what gives marmosets another special trait: They're super talkative. "They're chattering nonstop," he says. "That is also very different from our close relatives the chimpanzees." © 2015 NPR
By C. CLAIBORNE RAY Q. Are men more likely to be claustrophobic than women? A. The opposite seems to be true, as is the case in almost all anxiety disorders, large epidemiological studies have found. The reasons for such a gender difference are not clear, and claustrophobia, the feeling of extreme panic when faced with being in a confined or enclosed space, is not as well studied as some other phobias. One situation that has been comparatively well researched is what happens when people need magnetic resonance imaging, which often involves a prolonged period of confinement in a small enclosure, the perfect storm of claustrophobia triggers. A recent study found that certain factors seem to correlate with an increase in claustrophobic reactions, including being female, going into the scanner head first and having a previous negative experience with the test. Another large study involving scanners with a shorter chamber and noise reduction found a significant reduction in claustrophobic reactions, but being female and middle-aged were still associated with a higher rate of claustrophobia. It has often been assumed that claustrophobia develops as a response to a traumatic experience, like being trapped in a closet as a child, but newer research suggests a genetic component. In one study in mice, a single defective gene was associated with claustrophobia. email@example.com © 2015 The New York Times Company
Victoria E Brings & Mark J Zylka A study finds that pain hypersensitivity in male and female mice is differentially dependent on microglia and T cells, and describes a sex-specific response to microglia-targeted pain treatments. This sex difference will be important to consider when developing treatments for pain and other neurological disorders involving microglia and immune cells. Animal studies1, 2 have spawned great interest in using microglial inhibitors such as minocycline to treat pain in humans. However, these studies were conducted largely on male rodents. Now, Sorge et al.3 have evaluated several microglial inhibitors in nerve-injured mice of both sexes. The study—led by Jeffrey Mogil, who has championed the testing of males and females in pain studies4—found that microglial inhibitors did reduce allodynia, a form of pain hypersensitivity to touch, in males. Surprisingly, however, these inhibitors were ineffective in female mice, despite a robust activation of spinal microglia (Fig. 1). The authors instead found that cells of the adaptive immune system promote pain hypersensitivity in females. Although focused on pain, these findings could have implications for other neurological disorders that disproportionately affect one sex, such as autism and neurodegeneration, and in which microglia and immune cells are implicated5, 6. Figure 1: Pain mechanisms differ in male and female mice. Pain mechanisms differ in male and female mice. Nerve injury activates microglial cells in the spinal cord of male and female mice, but microglial inhibitors only block allodynia in males. P2RX4 is upregulated in males only. Female mice have about twice as many T cells as males. Testosterone increases PPARα and decreases PPARγ gene expression in T cells. Compounds that activate PPARα inhibit mechanical pain hypersensitivity (allodynia) in males, whereas those that activate PPARγ inhibit allodynia in females. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited