Postnatal Effects of Sex Hormones on Click-Evoked Otoacoustic Emissions: A Study of Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria

Sarah M. Burke, Jason O. van Heesewijk, Willeke M. Menks, Daniel T. Klink, Baudewijntje P.C. Kreukels, Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, Julie Bakker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions (CEOAEs) are echo-like sounds, generated by the inner ear in response to click-stimuli. A sex difference in emission strength is observed in neonates and adults, with weaker CEOAE amplitudes in males. These differences are assumed to originate from testosterone influences during prenatal male sexual differentiation and to remain stable throughout life. However, recent studies suggested activational, postnatal effects of sex hormones on CEOAEs. Adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria (GD) may receive gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs (GnRHa) in order to suppress endogenous sex hormones and, therefore, pubertal maturation, followed by cross-sex hormone (CSH) treatment. Using a cross-sectional design, we examined whether hormonal interventions in adolescents diagnosed with GD (62 trans boys, assigned female at birth, self-identifying as male; 43 trans girls, assigned male at birth, self-identifying as female), affected their CEOAEs compared to age- and sex-matched controls (44 boys, 37 girls). Sex-typical differences in CEOAE amplitude were observed among cisgender controls and treatment-naïve trans boys but not in other groups with GD. Treatment-naïve trans girls tended to have more female-typical CEOAEs, suggesting hypomasculinized early sexual differentiation, in support of a prominent hypothesis on the etiology of GD. In line with the predicted suppressive effects of androgens, trans boys receiving CSH treatment, i.e., testosterone plus GnRHa, showed significantly weaker right-ear CEOAEs compared with control girls. A similar trend was seen in trans boys treated with GnRHa only. Unexpectedly, trans girls showed CEOAE masculinization with addition of estradiol. Our findings show that CEOAEs may not be used as an unequivocal measure of prenatal androgen exposure as they can be modulated postnatally by sex hormones, in the form of hormonal treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-465
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Volume49
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Cite this