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22 May, 2018 21:55

Trans brains different from non-trans people, MRI study shows

Trans brains different from non-trans people, MRI study shows

A new study using MRI scans of the brains of transgender children reveals similarities between brains of their preferred gender, suggesting trans people are born with their differences.

The study reveals the brains of transgender individuals who identify as women are more similar to the brains of women than men, and the same goes for transgender people who are born in a woman’s body but identify as males - their brains are more like males than females.

The study, carried out by the University of Liege in Belgium, examined 160 children with gender dysphoria (when someone feels their emotional and psychological identity is different to their biological sex) and a number without the condition. It used an MRI scan to study the subjects’ brains. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body.  

‘Brain structure and function in gender dysphoria’ revealed the brains of those with gender dysphoria have both structural and neurological patterns that match the brains of those of their preferred genders.

“We found that hypothalamic responses of both adolescent girls and boys diagnosed with gender dysphoria were more similar to their experienced gender than their birth sex,” the study’s lead author Dr. Julie Bakker said, adding this “supports the hypothesis of a sex-atypical brain differentiation in these individuals.”

Scientists looked at regional gray matter volumes and white matter microstructure of the brains to determine similarities between cis-gender and trans subjects. It found that the trans brains had similar volumes to those of their preferred genders, more than their birth sex. The study also examined the reaction the brains had when being exposed to androstadienone, a steroid with a pheromone-like effect, which had similar results. The findings were presented at the European Society of Endocrinology in Barcelona over the weekend.

“Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” Bakker said, the Telegraph reports. “We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously.” 

The next steps involve looking at the role that hormones play during puberty on the brain’s development. The current treatment for young people who identify as trans is therapy and hormone treatment, which delays the onset of hormones at puberty so as to better allow people the time to make the decision at a later date.

The study is not the first to come up with similar findings. A study released in March by the University of São Paulo's Medical School had similar findings about the insula region of the brains of trans and cis-gender people.

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