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Intrinsic network connectivity and own body perception in gender dysphoria

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Abstract

Gender dysphoria (GD) is characterized by incongruence between one’s identity and gender assigned at birth. The biological mechanisms of GD are unclear. We investigated brain network connectivity patterns involved in own body perception in the context of self in GD. Twenty-seven female-to-male (FtM) individuals with GD, 27 male controls, and 27 female controls underwent resting state fMRI. We compared functional connections within intrinsic connectivity networks involved in self-referential processes and own body perception –default mode network (DMN) and salience network – and visual networks, using independent components analyses. Behavioral correlates of network connectivity were also tested using self-perception ratings while viewing own body images morphed to their sex assigned at birth, and to the sex of their gender identity. FtM exhibited decreased connectivity of anterior and posterior cingulate and precuneus within the DMN compared with controls. In FtM, higher “self” ratings for bodies morphed towards the sex of their gender identity were associated with greater connectivity of the anterior cingulate within the DMN, during long viewing times. In controls, higher ratings for bodies morphed towards their gender assigned at birth were associated with right insula connectivity within the salience network, during short viewing times. Within visual networks FtM showed weaker connectivity in occipital and temporal regions. Results suggest disconnectivity within networks involved in own body perception in the context of self in GD. Moreover, perception of bodies in relation to self may be reflective rather than reflexive, as a function of mesial prefrontal processes. These may represent neurobiological correlates to the subjective disconnection between perception of body and self-identification.

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Acknowledgments

We are extremely grateful to Amirhossein Manzouri for assistance with experiments and data processing, and Kyriaki Kosidou for several patient referrals. We would like to also thank Wei Li for his assistance with programming the stimuli for presentation, Marius Zimmermann for some fMRI analyses, and Gerhard Hellemann for statistical consultation.

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Correspondence to Jamie D. Feusner.

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This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Science Council (I.S., grant number Dnr 2007–3107); Stockholm Brain Institute (I.S.); FORTE (I.S.); AFA (I.S.); and the National Institutes of Health (J.F., grant numbers K23MH079212 and R01MH093535).

Funding

This study was funded by grants from the Swedish Science Council (I.S., grant number Dnr 2007–3107); Stockholm Brain Institute (I.S.); FORTE (I.S.); AFA (I.S.); and the National Institutes of Health (J.F., grant numbers K23MH079212 and R01MH093535).

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Jamie Feusner declares that he has no conflict of interest. Andreas Lidström declares that he has no conflict of interest. Teena Moody declares that she has no conflict of interest. Cecilia Dhejne declares that she has no conflict of interest. Susan Bookheimer declares that she has no conflict of interest. Ivanka Savic declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Feusner, J.D., Lidström, A., Moody, T.D. et al. Intrinsic network connectivity and own body perception in gender dysphoria. Brain Imaging and Behavior 11, 964–976 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-016-9578-6

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