Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether aggression and serotonergic dysfunction are related in the absence of a history of suicidal behavior. Although serotonergic dysfunction has been implicated in aggressive and impulsive behavior, most studies of such behavior have included individuals with a history of suicide attempts. Low concentrations of CSF 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) have been consistently associated with suicidal behavior, presenting a potential confound in the link between aggression and serotonergic dysfunction.
Method: The authors examined the association between aggression and CSF 5-HIAA concentrations in a group of 64 patients who had different DSM-III-R axis I diagnoses and no past suicidal behavior. Aggressive (N=35) and nonaggressive (N=29) groups were defined by a median split on a six-item history of adulthood aggressive behavior.
Results: The aggressive group had significantly lower CSF 5-HIAA concentrations than the nonaggressive group. Aggressive individuals also scored significantly higher on self-report measures of hostility, impulsiveness, and sensation seeking. CSF 5-HIAA concentrations, however, did not correlate with self-reported hostility and impulsivity.
Conclusions: There is an association between aggressive behavior and serotonergic dysfunction independent of suicidal behavior in patients with axis I disorders who exhibit relatively milder forms of aggressive behavior. Analogous to findings with suicidal behavior, a low concentration of CSF 5-HIAA is related to aggressive behavior but does not show the same relationship to the continuum of aggressive feelings and thoughts.