A Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study in Transgender Persons on Cross-Sex Hormone Therapy

Neuroendocrinology. 2017;105(2):123-130. doi: 10.1159/000448787. Epub 2016 Aug 5.


Background: To date, research findings are inconsistent about whether the neuroanatomy in transgender persons resembles that of their natal sex or their gender identity. Moreover, few studies have examined the effects of long-term cross-sex hormonal treatment on neuroanatomy in this cohort. The purpose of the present study was to examine neuroanatomical differences in transgender persons after prolonged cross-sex hormone therapy.

Methods: Eighteen transgender men (female-to-male), 17 transgender women (male-to-female), 30 nontransgender men (natal men), and 27 nontransgender women (natal women) completed a high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging scan at 3 T. Eligibility criteria for transgender persons were gender-affirming surgery and at least 2 years of cross-sex hormone therapy. Exclusion criteria for nontransgender persons were presence of psychiatric or neurological disorders.

Results: The mean neuroanatomical volume for the amygdala, putamen, and corpus callosum differed between transgender women and natal women but not between transgender women and natal men. Differences between transgender men and natal men were found in several brain structures, including the medial temporal lobe structures and cerebellum. Differences between transgender men and natal women were found in the medial temporal lobe, nucleus accumbens, and 3rd ventricle. Sexual dimorphism between nontransgender men and women included larger cerebellar volumes and a smaller anterior corpus callosum in natal men than in natal women. The results remained stable after correcting for additional factors including age, total intracranial volume, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Neuroanatomical differences were region specific between transgender persons and their natal sex as well as their gender identity, raising the possibility of a localized influence of sex hormones on neuroanatomy.

Keywords: Androgen; Estrogen; Morphometry; Transsexual; Treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transgender Persons
  • Transsexualism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Transsexualism / drug therapy*


  • Hormones