Gender-affirming hormone treatment – A unique approach to study the effects of sex hormones on brain structure and function

Georg S. Kranz (Corresponding Author), Bella B.B. Zhang, Patricia Handschuh, Vera Ritter, Rupert Lanzenberger

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Investigating the effects of the gender-affirming hormone treatment of transgender people using neuroimaging provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of high dosages of sex hormones on human brain structure and function. This line of research is of relevance from a basic neuroscientific as well as from a psychiatric viewpoint. Prevalence rates, etiopathology, and disease course of many psychiatric disorders exhibit sex differences which are linked to differences in sex hormone levels. Here, we review recent neuroimaging studies from others and our group that investigate the effects of gender-affirming hormone treatment in a longitudinal design utilizing structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. Studies point to a general anabolic and anticatabolic effect of testosterone on grey and white matter structure, whereas estradiol and antiandrogen treatment seems to have partly opposite effects. Moreover, preliminary research indicates that gender-affirming hormone treatment influences serotonergic neurotransmission, a finding that is especially interesting for psychiatry. A clear picture of a hormonal influence on brain activity has yet to emerge. In conclusion, the available evidence reviewed here clearly indicates that sex hormone applications influence brain structure and function in the adult human brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-79
Number of pages12
JournalCortex
Volume129
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Gender dysphoria
  • Neuroimaging
  • Sex hormones
  • Transgender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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