In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Margaret McCarthy from the University of Maryland and colleagues studied brain development in newborn rats.

She found that giving estradiol, a testosterone derivative, triggers a mechanism by which certain genes in the brain are "unsilenced", allowing them to initiate the process of masculinisation.This process involves a group of enzymes known as DNA methyltransferases, or Dnmts, which modify DNA to repress gene expression.

"This gives us a new understanding of how gender is determined in the brain," said McCarthy. The researchers also found that by inhibiting Dnmts, they could alter the reproductive behaviour of male and female mice. Researchers injected Dnmts inhibitors into a specific region of the female brains, a region known as the preoptic area, or POA.

In every species that's been studied, including humans, the POA plays a key role in governing male sexual behaviour .The injections occurred after the first week of birth, the time when the window for brain sexual differentiation was thought to have been closed.

 

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