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Cortical Structure Differences in Relation to Age, Sexual Attractions, and Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents: An Examination of Mean Diffusivity and T1 Relaxation Time

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Skorska, Malvina N.; orcid: 0000-0001-9081-5497; email: 
Thurston, Lindsey T.; orcid: 0000-0003-2001-1439 
Biasin, Jessica M. 
Devenyi, Gabriel A.; orcid: 0000-0002-7766-1187; email: 
Zucker, Kenneth J.; orcid: 0000-0001-5313-6401 


Recent research found that the combination of masculine gender identity and gynephilia was associated with cortical T1 relaxation time, which is considered to reflect gray matter density. We hypothesized that mean diffusivity (MD), a diffusion tensor imaging metric that reflects the degree to which water movement is free versus constrained, in combination with T1 relaxation time would provide further insight regarding cortical tissue characteristics. MD and T1 relaxation time were measured in 76 cortical regions in 15 adolescents assigned female at birth who experience gender dysphoria (GD AFAB) and were not receiving hormone therapy, 17 cisgender girls, and 14 cisgender boys (ages 12–17 years). Sexual orientation was represented by the degree of androphilia–gynephilia and the strength of sexual attraction. In multivariate analyses, cortical T1 relaxation time showed a weak but statistically significant positive association with MD across the cortex, suggesting that macromolecule-rich cortical tissue also tends to show water movement that is somewhat more constrained. In further multivariate analyses, in several left frontal, parietal, and temporal regions, the combination of shorter T1 relaxation time and faster MD was associated with older age and greater gynephilia in GD AFAB individuals and cisgender boys and with stronger attractions in cisgender boys only. Thus, for these cortical regions in these groups, older age, gynephilia, and stronger attractions (cisgender boys only) were associated with macromolecule-rich tissue in which water movement was freer—a pattern that some prior research suggests is associated with greater cell density and size. Overall, this study indicates that investigating T1 relaxation time and MD together can further inform how cortical gray matter tissue characteristics relate to age and psychosexuality.


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partial least squares, mean diffusivity, sexual orientation, T1 relaxometry, brain tissue microstructure, structural MRI, gender dysphoria, brain development, adolescence

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Brain Sciences

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Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FRN 142348, FRN 159578)