Protecting Our Brains and Understanding Sex Differences with Neuroscientist Dr. Maheen Adamson

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden injury that causes damage to the brain. It may happen when there is a blow, bump, or jolt to the head. It’s important to know the signs of one so you don’t delay treatment. Dr Maheen Adamson shares her insight into this topic with us in today’s episode – learn more about how TBI affects men and women differently.

February 15th, 2022

Episode Notes

Memorable Moments:

  • 5:50 So that’s why I think one of the most important things to realize is that a lot of people don’t even go to the hospital when they fall or they get hit. They’re like, “I’ll be fine.” So that’s one of the biggest things that gets misdiagnosed [around traumatic brain injuries].
  • 8:50 There’s a lot of changes that were actually made in sports as well as in the military. So we had to come up with TBI guidelines. We had to come up with specific ways of diagnosing these three different categories. So there’s three, right? There’s mild, moderate, and severe.
  • 10:10 All this really came about because of awareness, because we found out that this is something we have to pay attention to because [it’s] leading into all these other problems. And they can appear six months after an injury. And some of the patients that I see, those symptoms have been there for 10 years. 
  • 14:27 What’s different about it is that in symptoms, we would go ahead and look at data that we already have, and we will see all these differences, all these disparities between men and women in just symptom reporting. The women were reporting more cognitive problems. After brain injury, women were reporting more psychiatric problems.
  • 15:36 Cortex can be a certain thickness and it’s a variable that changes throughout life, but it’s pretty stable in your adult stage. And usually the cortex of the brain is thicker in women than it is in men. That’s just what the data shows. After brain injury, we compared cortical thickness between men and women after adjusting for age and, you know, skull size because men have bigger skulls, right? And so we were like, okay, are there any differences? It turns out that women who have brain injury somehow don’t end up recuperating in terms of the mass of the cortex, as much as men. So men go back to their size, women don’t. 
  • 18:37 I think it’s mind blowing because we, you know, we have hormones, we bear our children. We have very different external stimuli that are coming to us. And somehow the treatments that are offered to men are supposed to be completely fine as-is for us. And they’re not. I also just did another study in which I’ve found that the models that are created, machine learning models that are created for men do not fit the women. They fit, but not as well as they do for men.
  • 19:17 We know for a fact that our bodies, our stomachs digest medicine, different from men. We, our brains respond differently to medication than men. Our skull is smaller. We have less blood in our body. Our neck is thinner, which is one of the reasons why, and we have what’s called when you jerk your head back in a motor vehicle accident, it’s called whiplash. One of the reasons that women report more vertical and more balance problems is because we have a thinner neck. And it moves back. So there’s all these tiny differences that can actually get really accentuated later on in life, if they’re not treated.
  • 20:36 One of the base things really learned in the past 10, 15 years is asking somebody if you’ve had a TBI, that’s not going to give you the answer. You have to really be interactive about it and assertive about it. In fact, a lot of academic centers have developed what’s called TBI questionnaires, traumatic brain injury questionnaires, and this goes for a lot of different things, right? It can also go for depression. It can go for a lot of different things.

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This podcast is hosted by Allison Walsh and Dr. Angela Phillips. It is produced by Allison Walsh, Ashley Tate, and Nicole LaNeve. For more information or if you’re interested in being a guest on this podcast, please visit

Show Contributors

Dr. Rebecca Williams

After completing undergraduates degrees in Biology and Women’s Studies at UC Irvine, Dr. Adamson completed a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, followed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Psychiatry at the VAPAHCS & Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Adamson is a neuroscientist and neuroimaging expert, whose research interests include the neurological impact of traumatic brain injury, pain, and Alzheimer’s disease. She’s a leader in healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and translational neuroscience. A passionate advocate for healthcare gender equality and policy change committed to the development of novel therapeutic approaches such as brain stimulation and virtual reality.