Puberty and testosterone shape the corticospinal tract during male adolescence
Some of the known sex differences in white matter emerge during adolescence. Here, we replicate and extend our previous findings of sex differences in the structure of the corticospinal tract (Perrin et al. 2009; Herve et al. 2009). In a large normative sample of adolescents, we observed age × sex interactions in the signal intensity of T1-weighted (T1W) images (n = 941) and in magnetization transfer ratio (MTR; n = 761); both features were inversely associated with age in males but not in females. Moreover, we hypothesized that the age-related differences in CST structure exhibited by males would be mediated by differences in puberty stage and levels of bioavailable testosterone. We confirmed this prediction using mediation analysis with bootstrapping. These findings suggest that sex differences in the CST structure observed during male adolescence may be due to multiple processes associated with puberty, including (but not limited to) the rising levels of testosterone.