Possible Neurobiological Underpinnings of Homosexuality and Gender Dysphoria

Cereb Cortex. 2019 May 1;29(5):2084-2101. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy090.


Although frequently discussed in terms of sex dimorphism, the neurobiology of sexual orientation and identity is unknown. We report multimodal magnetic resonance imaging data, including cortical thickness (Cth), subcortical volumes, and resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging, from 27 transgender women (TrW), 40 transgender men (TrM), and 80 heterosexual (40 men) and 60 homosexual cisgender controls (30 men). These data show that whereas homosexuality is linked to cerebral sex dimorphism, gender dysphoria primarily involves cerebral networks mediating self-body perception. Among the homosexual cisgender controls, weaker sex dimorphism was found in white matter connections and a partly reversed sex dimorphism in Cth. Similar patterns were detected in transgender persons compared with heterosexual cisgender controls, but the significant clusters disappeared when adding homosexual controls, and correcting for sexual orientation. Instead, both TrW and TrM displayed singular features, showing greater Cth as well as weaker structural and functional connections in the anterior cingulate-precuneus and right occipito-parietal cortex, regions known to process own body perception in the context of self.

Keywords: MRI; gender dysphoria; gender identity; own body; sex differences; sexual orientation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Gender Dysphoria / physiopathology*
  • Homosexuality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Transgender Persons
  • Transsexualism / physiopathology
  • Young Adult