Same sex, no sex, and unaware sex in neurotoxicology
Males and females of virtually all species differ in how they respond to their environment. Because such differences exist in almost all biological realms, including disease patterns and therapeutic outcomes, they have evoked calls by various bodies to incorporate their assessment in research. Neurobehavioral indices pose special questions because, unlike outwardly visible markers, they are described by complex functional outcomes or subtle alterations in brain structure. These divergent responses arise because they are inscribed in the genome itself and then by endocrine mechanisms that govern sexual differentiation of the brain during development and operate throughout life. Other organ systems that exhibit sex differences include the liver, an important consideration for neurotoxicology because it may process many toxic chemicals differentially in males and females. Despite the scope and pervasiveness of sex differences, however, they are disregarded by much of neurotoxicology research. Males predominate in behavioral experiments, few such experiments study both sexes, some investigators fail to even describe the sex of their subjects, and in vitro studies tend to wholly ignore sex, even for model systems aimed at neurological disorders that display marked sex differences. The public is acutely aware of sex differences in behavior, as attested by its appetite for books on the topic. It closely follows debates about the proportion of women in professions that feature science and mathematics. Neurotoxicology, especially in the domain of laboratory research, will be hindered in its ability to translate its findings into human health measures if it assigns sex differences to a minor role. It must also be sensitive to how such debates are framed. Often, the differences evoking the most discussion are subtle in scope. They do not lend themselves to the typical analyses conducted by experimenters; that is, reliance on mean differences and null hypothesis testing.