© 2016 Elsevier Inc. Sex-steroid hormones have repeatedly been shown to influence empathy, which is in turn reflected in resting state functional connectivity (rsFC). Cross-sex hormone treatment in transgender individuals provides the opportunity to examine changes to rsFC over gender transition. We aimed to investigate whether sex-steroid hormones influence rsFC patterns related to unique aspects of empathy, namely emotion recognition and description as well as emotional contagion. RsFC data was acquired with 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging in 24 male-to-female (MtF) and 33 female-to-male (FtM) transgender individuals before treatment, in addition to 33 male- and 44 female controls. Of the transgender participants, 15 MtF and 20 FtM were additionally assessed after 4 weeks and 4 months of treatment. Empathy scores were acquired at the same time-points. MtF differed at baseline from all other groups and assimilated over the course of gender transition in a rsFC network around the supramarginal gyrus, a region central to interpersonal emotion processing. While changes to sex-steroid hormones did not correlate with rsFC in this network, a sex hormone independent association between empathy scores and rsFC was found. Our results underline that 1) MtF transgender persons demonstrate unique rsFC patterns in a network related to empathy and 2) changes within this network over gender transition are likely related to changes in emotion recognition, -description, and -contagion, and are sex-steroid hormone independent.
- Gender transition
- Network based statistics
- Resting state functional connectivity
- Cognitive Neuroscience