High novelty-seeking predicts aggression and gene expression differences within defined serotonergic cell groups

Kerman IA, Clinton SM, Bedrosian TA, Abraham AD, Rosenthal DT, Akil H, Watson SJ
Brain Res. 2011; 1419:34-45.


Aggression frequently coincides with specific dimensions of emotionality, such as impulsivity, risk-taking, and drug abuse. Serotonergic (5-HTergic) neurotransmission contributes to the regulation of numerous neurobiological functions, and is thought to play a key role in modulating aggressive responses. The current study uses selectively-bred High (bHR) and Low (bLR) Responder rats that exhibit differences in emotionality and behavioral control, with bHRs exhibiting heightened novelty-induced exploration, impulsivity, and increased sensitivity to drugs of abuse, and with bLRs characterized by exaggerated depressive- and anxiety-like behaviors. Based on this behavioral profile we hypothesized that bHR rats exhibit increased aggression along with changes in testosterone and corticosterone secretion characteristic of aggression, and that these changes are accompanied by alterations in the expression of key genes that regulate 5-HTergic neurotransmission (Tph2 and Sert) as well as in the activation of 5-HTergic cell groups following aggressive encounter. Our data demonstrate that when compared to bLR rats, bHRs express increased baseline Tph2 and Sert in select brainstem nuclei, and when tested on the resident-intruder test they exhibited: 1) increased aggressive behavior; 2) potentiated corticosterone and testosterone secretion; and 3) diminished intrusion-induced c-fos expression in select 5-HTergic brainstem cell groups. The most prominent gene expression differences occurred in the B9 cell group, pontomesencephalic reticular formation, median raphe, and the gigantocellular nucleus pars α. These data are consistent with the notion that altered 5-HT neurotransmission contributes to bHRs' heightened aggression. Furthermore, they indicate that a specific subset of brainstem 5-HTergic cell groups contributes to the regulation of intrusion-elicited behavioral responses.