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Worms take the sniff test to reveal sex differences in brain
Date:11/5/2007

Buttery popcorn or fresh green vegetables? Your answer tells a lot about you.

Now, scientists say that the way that thousands of tiny worms have answered that question likely reveals a lot about you and your brain, too.

In the experiment at the University of Rochester Medical Center, worms that are hermaphrodites (with characteristics of both females and males) went for the buttery smell, while the males the other of the two sexes in these worms opted for the scent of fresh vegetables. But when researchers tricked a few nerve cells in hermaphrodites into sensing that they were in a male worm, suddenly they too preferred the smell of fresh vegetables.

While the olfactory likes and dislikes of the tiny roundworm known as C. elegans is the stuff of distinctive cocktail conversation, trivia is the furthest thing on the minds of Rochester scientists who did the study, which is being published in the Nov. 6 issue of Current Biology.

Geneticist Douglas Portman, Ph.D., and graduate student KyungHwa Lee ultimately hope to understand gender differences in diseases like autism, depression, and attention-deficit disorder. Many more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADD and autism, and many more girls than boys are diagnosed with depression. While proposed explanations abound, few scientists debate the notion that the brains of the sexes are in some ways fundamentally different.

The experiments with humble C. elegans, nearly invisible to the naked eye and common in soil worldwide, make up one way that scientists are exploring the roots of a host of conditions that affect the human brain. The research project was funded by Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to autism awareness and research.

For so many diseases, like autism or mood disorders, its clear that they either are more prevalent in one sex than the other, or they manifest themselves differently. But no one really knows why, said Portman, assistant profe
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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