The neurobiology of offensive aggression: Revealing a modular view

S.F. de Boer, B. Olivier, J. Veening, J.M. Koolhaas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Experimental studies aimed at understanding the neurobiology of aggression started in the early 20th century, and by employing increasingly sophisticated tools of functional neuroanatomy (i.e., from electric/chemical lesion and stimulation techniques to neurochemical mapping and manipulations) have provided the important framework for the functional brain circuit organization of aggressive behaviors. Recently, newly emerging technologies for mapping, measuring and manipulating neural circuitry at the level of molecular and genetically defined neuronal subtypes promise to further delineate the precise neural microcircuits mediating the initiation and termination of aggressive behavior, and characterize its dynamic neuromolecular functioning. This paper will review some of the behavioral, neuroanatomical and neurochemical evidence in support of a modular view of the neurobiology of offensive aggressive behavior. Although aggressive behavior likely arises from a specific concerted activity within a distributed neural network across multiple brain regions, emerging opto- and pharmacogenetic neuronal manipulation studies make it clear that manipulation of molecularly-defined neurons within a single node of this global interconnected network seems to be both necessary and sufficient to evoke aggressive attacks. However, the evidence so far also indicates that in addition to behavior-specific neurons there are neuronal systems that should be considered as more general behavioral control modules. The answer to the question of behavioral specificity of brain structures at the level of individual neurons requires a change of the traditional experimental setup. Studies using c-fos expression mapping usually compare the activation patterns induced by for example aggression with a home cage control. However, to reveal the behavioral specificity of this neuronal activation pattern, a comparison with other social and non-social related behaviors such as mating, defensive burying or running might be more appropriate. In addition, the correlations between aggressive behavior and other behaviors in different environmental contexts might give an indication of these more general behavioral control functions. Elucidating how neural circuits that modulate social-aggressive behavior also mediate other complex emotional behaviors or states will lead to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which social deficits are expressed in various neuropsychiatric disorders. This likely will lead to more efficacious pharmacological or circuit-based therapeutics to curb excessive/abnormal aggressive behavior and improve social function. (C) 2015 Elsevier Inc All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-127
Number of pages17
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Volume146
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jul-2015

Keywords

  • Aggression
  • Neural circuits
  • Optogenetics
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Serotonin
  • Oxytocin
  • Vasopressin
  • MEDIAL FOREBRAIN-BUNDLE
  • LATERAL SEPTAL VASOPRESSIN
  • HYPOTHALAMIC ATTACK AREA
  • DORSAL RAPHE NUCLEUS
  • CORTICOTROPIN-RELEASING-FACTOR
  • RESIDENT INTRUDER AGGRESSION
  • 5-HT1A RECEPTOR AGONISTS
  • NONAGGRESSIVE MALE-MICE
  • SYRIAN-HAMSTER BRAIN
  • WILD-TYPE RATS

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