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White matter microstructure in transmasculine and cisgender adolescents: A multiparametric and multivariate study.

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Thurston, Lindsey T  ORCID logo
Lobaugh, Nancy J 
Zucker, Kenneth J 
Chakravarty, M Mallar 


Adolescence is a sensitive developmental period for neural sex/gender differentiation. The present study used multiparametric mapping to better characterize adolescent white matter (WM) microstructure. WM microstructure was investigated using diffusion tensor indices (fractional anisotropy; mean, radial, and axial diffusivity [AD]) and quantitative T1 relaxometry (T1) in hormone therapy naïve adolescent cisgender girls, cisgender boys, and transgender boys (i.e., assigned female at birth and diagnosed with gender dysphoria). Diffusion indices were first analyzed for group differences using tract-based spatial statistics, which revealed a group difference in AD. Thus, two multiparametric and multivariate analyses assessed AD in conjunction with T1 relaxation time, and with respect to developmental proxy variables (i.e., age, serum estradiol, pubertal development, sexual attraction) thought to be relevant to adolescent brain development. The multivariate analyses showed a shared pattern between AD and T1 such that higher AD was associated with longer T1, and AD and T1 strongly related to all five developmental variables in cisgender boys (10 significant correlations, r range: 0.21-0.73). There were fewer significant correlations between the brain and developmental variables in cisgender girls (three correlations, r range: -0.54-0.54) and transgender boys (two correlations, r range: -0.59-0.77). Specifically, AD related to direction of sexual attraction (i.e., gynephilia, androphilia) in all groups, and T1 related to estradiol inversely in cisgender boys compared with transgender boys. These brain patterns may be indicative of less myelination and tissue density in cisgender boys, which corroborates other reports of protracted WM development in cisgender boys. Further, these findings highlight the importance of considering developmental trajectory when assessing the subtleties of neural structure associated with variations in sex, gender, and sexual attraction.


Funder: University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry

Funder: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation; funder-id:


Male, Infant, Newborn, Humans, Female, Adolescent, White Matter, Brain, Gender Identity, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Estradiol

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FRN 142348)
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FRN 159578)
Canadian Institutes of Health Research Sex and Gender Science Chair (GSB 171373)