Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 219, Issue 1, pp 171–183 | Cite as

Cerebral serotonin transporter asymmetry in females, males and male-to-female transsexuals measured by PET in vivo

  • Georg S. Kranz
  • Andreas Hahn
  • Pia Baldinger
  • Daniela Haeusler
  • Cecile Philippe
  • Ulrike Kaufmann
  • Wolfgang Wadsak
  • Markus Savli
  • Anna Hoeflich
  • Christoph Kraus
  • Thomas Vanicek
  • Markus Mitterhauser
  • Siegfried Kasper
  • Rupert LanzenbergerEmail author
Original Article


The serotonergic system modulates brain functions that are considered to underlie affective states, emotion and cognition. Several lines of evidence point towards a strong lateralization of these mental processes, which indicates similar asymmetries in associated neurotransmitter systems. Here, our aim was to investigate a potential asymmetry of the serotonin transporter distribution using positron emission tomography and the radioligand [11C]DASB in vivo. As brain asymmetries may differ between sexes, we further aimed to compare serotonin transporter asymmetry between females, males and male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals whose brains are considered to be partly feminized. Voxel-wise analysis of serotonin transporter binding in all groups showed both strong left and rightward asymmetries in several cortical and subcortical structures including temporal and frontal cortices, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, caudate and thalamus. Further, male controls showed a rightward asymmetry in the midcingulate cortex, which was absent in females and MtF transsexuals. The present data support the notion of a lateralized serotonergic system, which is in line with previous findings of asymmetric serotonin-1A receptor distributions, extracellular serotonin concentrations, serotonin turnover and uptake. The absence of serotonin transporter asymmetry in the midcingulate in MtF transsexuals may be attributed to an absence of brain masculinization in this region.


Serotonin transporter Cerebral asymmetry Lateralization Gender dysphoria Transsexual 



This research was funded by Austrian National Bank Grant P 13214 (to R. L.) and P 13675 (to M.M.). A. Hahn is a recipient of a DOC fellowship of the Austrian Academy of Sciences at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. The authors are especially grateful to all transsexual subjects for participating in this study and to the clinical staff at the PET centre, the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy for their technical and medical support and to Marie Spies for linguistic support.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest related to this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georg S. Kranz
    • 1
  • Andreas Hahn
    • 1
  • Pia Baldinger
    • 1
  • Daniela Haeusler
    • 2
  • Cecile Philippe
    • 2
  • Ulrike Kaufmann
    • 3
  • Wolfgang Wadsak
    • 2
  • Markus Savli
    • 1
  • Anna Hoeflich
    • 1
  • Christoph Kraus
    • 1
  • Thomas Vanicek
    • 1
  • Markus Mitterhauser
    • 2
  • Siegfried Kasper
    • 1
  • Rupert Lanzenberger
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Functional, Molecular and Translational Neuroimaging Lab, Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Nuclear MedicineMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria

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