Effects of adult male rat feminization treatments on brain morphology and metabolomic profile

Horm Behav. 2020 Sep:125:104839. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104839. Epub 2020 Aug 22.


Body feminization, as part of gender affirmation process of transgender women, decreases the volume of their cortical and subcortical brain structures. In this work, we implement a rat model of adult male feminization which reproduces the results in the human brain and allows for the longitudinal investigation of the underlying structural and metabolic determinants in the brain of adult male rats undergoing feminization treatments. Structural MRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) were used to non-invasively monitor in vivo cortical brain volume and white matter microstructure over 30 days in adult male rats receiving estradiol (E2), estradiol plus cyproterone acetate (CA), an androgen receptor blocker and antigonadotropic agent (E2 + CA), or vehicle (control). Ex vivo cerebral metabolic profiles were assessed by 1H High Resolution Magic Angle Spinning NMR (1H HRMAS) at the end of the treatments in samples from brain regions dissected after focused microwave fixation (5 kW). We found that; a) Groups receiving E2 and E2 + CA showed a generalized bilateral decrease in cortical volume; b) the E2 + CA and, to a lesser extent, the E2 groups maintained fractional anisotropy values over the experiment while these values decreased in the control group; c) E2 treatment produced increases in the relative concentration of brain metabolites, including glutamate and glutamine and d) the glutamine relative concentration and fractional anisotropy were negatively correlated with total cortical volume. These results reveal, for the first time to our knowledge, that the volumetric decreases observed in trans women under cross-sex hormone treatment can be reproduced in a rat model. Estrogens are more potent drivers of brain changes in male rats than anti-androgen treatment.

Keywords: Adult male rat feminization; Cross-sex-hormone treatment; Cyproterone acetate; Estradiol; HRMAS; MRI; Transgender women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cyproterone Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Feminization* / chemically induced
  • Feminization* / metabolism
  • Feminization* / pathology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metabolome / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Transsexualism / chemically induced
  • Transsexualism / diagnostic imaging
  • Transsexualism / metabolism
  • Transsexualism / pathology


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Cyproterone Acetate
  • Estradiol