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[2013/10/22] Brain Signature of the Transsexuals Unraveled by Functional Neuroimaging

[20132/10/22]

Brain Signature of the Transsexuals Unraveled by Functional Neuroimaging

A research team led by psychiatrists and scientists at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang-Ming University's Institute of Brain Science has found that people with gender identity disorder (GID) are characterized by structural and functional alterations in the brain.

Psychiatrist Dr. Lee Ying-Chiao of Taipei Veterans General Hospital, one of the authors, said that among the 517 GID patients she has seen in the past 18 years, half exhibited symptoms of depression. 55 cases have improved their psychosocial life after hormone intervention or sex-reassignment surgery.

In the behavioral studies, 41 transsexual participants watched silent clips of films, some erotic in nature, others neutral, then rated the degree to which they identified with the male or female character. In both contexts, transsexual subjects gave significantly higher scores to the person of their desired gender than did 38 members of the reference group. Even during neutral films, the strength of this gender preference (desired versus non-desired) was much greater for transsexuals. The results pinpoint the pervasiveness of transsexuals' identification with their desired sex--in erotic situations, but also in neutral circumstances of daily life. This is considered a psychological trait that is a marker for gender identity disorder, said Prof. Jen-Chen Hsieh of National Yang-Ming University's Institute of Brian Science.

To examine connections in the working brain, functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) scans were performed on hormone-naïve transsexual participants, in order to observe the level of connectivity among relevant brain regions. These were areas known to be involved in sex dimorphism (ventral tegmental area), consciousness of self (rostral cingulate cortex), conflict monitoring (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex), social processing (pregenual anterior cingulate cortex), for example. The team's analyses showed significant connectivity in these brain regions of subjects with GID--something not seen in non-transsexual individuals. "This implies a neural plasticity emanating from psychosocial learning and coping in the face of social exclusion, conflict monitoring and punishment adjustment," Prof. Hsieh says.

The findings could also support more empathetic and encompassing approaches to gender issue policies. "Deliverance from suffering is the core value in pursuit of human rights", say both Dr. Lee and Prof. Hsieh.

 

Dr. Lee Ying-Chiao and Prof. Jen-Chen Hsieh(right)

Dr. Lee Ying-Chiao and Prof. Jen-Chen Hsieh(right)


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