Brain structures and neurotransmitters regulating aggression in cats: implications for human aggression

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Jan;25(1):91-140. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5846(00)00150-0.


1. Violence and aggression are major public health problems. 2. The authors have used techniques of electrical brain stimulation, anatomical-immunohistochemical techniques, and behavioral pharmacology to investigate the neural systems and circuits underlying aggressive behavior in the cat. 3. The medial hypothalamus and midbrain periaqueductal gray are the most important structures mediating defensive rage behavior, and the perifornical lateral hypothalamus clearly mediates predatory attack behavior. The hippocampus, amygdala, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, septal area, cingulate gyrus, and prefrontal cortex project to these structures directly or indirectly and thus can modulate the intensity of attack and rage. 4. Evidence suggests that several neurotransmitters facilitate defensive rage within the PAG and medial hypothalamus, including glutamate, Substance P, and cholecystokinin, and that opioid peptides suppress it; these effects usually depend on the subtype of receptor that is activated. 5. A key recent discovery was a GABAergic projection that may underlie the often-observed reciprocally inhibitory relationship between these two forms of aggression. 6. Recently, Substance P has come under scrutiny as a possible key neurotransmitter involved in defensive rage, and the mechanism by which it plays a role in aggression and rage is under investigation. 7. It is hoped that this line of research will provide a better understanding of the neural mechanisms and substrates regulating aggression and rage and thus establish a rational basis for treatment of disorders associated with these forms of aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Anger
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Violence


  • Neuropeptides
  • Neurotransmitter Agents