Psychopathological violence in criminals and intense aggression in fruit flies and rodents are studied with novel behavioral, neurobiological, and genetic approaches that characterize the escalation from adaptive aggression to violence. One goal is to delineate the type of aggressive behavior and its escalation with greater precision; second, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and brainstem structures emerge as pivotal nodes in the limbic circuitry mediating escalated aggressive behavior. The neurochemical and molecular work focuses on the genes that enable invertebrate aggression in males and females and genes that are expressed or suppressed as a result of aggressive experiences in mammals. The fruitless gene, immediate early genes in discrete serotonin neurons, or sex chromosome genes identify sexually differentiated mechanisms for escalated aggression. Male, but not female, fruit flies establish hierarchical relationships in fights and learn from previous fighting experiences. By manipulating either the fruitless or transformer genes in the brains of male or female flies, patterns of aggression can be switched with males using female patterns and vice versa. Work with Sts or Sry genes suggests so far that other genes on the X chromosomes may have a more critical role in female mouse aggression. New data from feral rats point to the regulatory influences on mesocortical serotonin circuits in highly aggressive animals via feedback to autoreceptors and via GABAergic and glutamatergic inputs. Imaging data lead to the hypothesis that antisocial, violent, and psychopathic behavior may in part be attributable to impairments in some of the brain structures (dorsal and ventral PFC, amygdala, and angular gyrus) subserving moral cognition and emotion.