Interaction of nitric oxide and serotonin in aggressive behavior

Horm Behav. 2003 Sep;44(3):233-41. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2003.02.002.


Nitric oxide (NO) modulates many behavioral and neuroendocrine responses. Genetic or pharmacological inhibition of the synthetic enzyme that produces NO in neurons evokes elevated and sustained aggression in male mice. Recently, the excessive aggressive and impulsive traits of neuronal NO synthase knockout (nNOS-/-) mice were shown to be caused by reductions in serotonin (5-HT) turnover and deficient 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptor function in brain regions regulating emotion. The consistently high levels of aggression observed in nNOS-/- mice could be reversed by 5-HT precursors and by treatment with specific 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptor agonists. The expression of the aggressive phenotype of nNOS-/- knockout mice requires isolated housing prior to testing. The effects of social factors such as housing condition and maternal care can affect 5-HT and aggression, but the interaction among extrinsic factors, 5-HT, NO, and aggression remains unspecified. Taken together, NO appears to play an important role in normal brain 5-HT function and may have significant implications for the treatment of psychiatric disorders characterized by aggressive and impulsive behaviors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Rats
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Serotonin
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Nos1 protein, mouse
  • Nos1 protein, rat
  • Nos3 protein, mouse
  • Nos3 protein, rat