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Study Sheds Light on Concussions in Women

Andy Berg

New research might shed some light on why women experience higher rates of concussion than their male counterparts.

new study from the University of Pennsylvania, the culprit may be due to differences in axons, or the output “wires” of neurons.

A number of explanations have been investigated to explain the higher rate of concussions experienced by women, including hormones, neck structure and cerebral blood flow. However, this latest study suggests a major culprit might be differences in the size and structure of male and female axons.

Donna Broshek, a researcher who worked on the study, told Scientific American the results are intriguing. “Many theories have been put forth, including that—because of differences in cultural socialization—women are more likely to endorse symptoms.” But the new results, published online last month, “suggest that women report more symptoms because they are...experiencing more symptoms,” Broshek said.

Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at UP, said that consensus is emerging that the major cause of concussions is damaged axons which led him to ask, “Is there something different about brain architecture,” he says, “that given the same mechanical forces, a female brain may be more injured than a male brain?”

To test their hypothesis, researchers put stress on male and female axons and then examined them for damage. “We found a dramatic difference,” Smith said. “The female axons had many more undulations, which were bigger, suggesting more structural damage.” 

While Smith and his team are confident they’ve uncovered at least one cause of differences in concussions between males and females, they’re hesitant to say this is the only cause.  “It's probably one of several factors,” Smith said. “Time will tell how large a role it plays.”

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