Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews | Published:

Sex differences in hippocampal cognition and neurogenesis


Sex differences are reported in hippocampal plasticity, cognition, and in a number of disorders that target the integrity of the hippocampus. For example, meta-analyses reveal that males outperform females on hippocampus-dependent tasks in rodents and in humans, furthermore women are more likely to experience greater cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease and depression, both diseases characterized by hippocampal dysfunction. The hippocampus is a highly plastic structure, important for processing higher order information and is sensitive to the environmental factors such as stress. The structure retains the ability to produce new neurons and this process plays an important role in pattern separation, proactive interference, and cognitive flexibility. Intriguingly, there are prominent sex differences in the level of neurogenesis and the activation of new neurons in response to hippocampus-dependent cognitive tasks in rodents. However, sex differences in spatial performance can be nuanced as animal studies have demonstrated that there are task, and strategy choice dependent sex differences in performance, as well as sex differences in the subregions of the hippocampus influenced by learning. This review discusses sex differences in pattern separation, pattern completion, spatial learning, and links between adult neurogenesis and these cognitive functions of the hippocampus. We emphasize the importance of including both sexes when studying genomic, cellular, and structural mechanisms of the hippocampal function.

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Research described from LAMG laboratory was funded by operating grants from Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) (203596-13) and Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) MOP102568. SY gratefully acknowledges support from the Killam Doctoral Scholarship through the University of British Columbia.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Liisa A. M. Galea.

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