Escalated aggressive behavior: new pharmacotherapeutic approaches and opportunities

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1036:336-55. doi: 10.1196/annals.1330.021.


Psychopharmacologic studies of aggressive behavior in animals under controlled laboratory conditions have been instrumental in developing and evaluating specific and effective novel drug treatments that reduce aggressive behavior. An initial contribution of this research is to create experimental conditions that enable the display of aggressive and defensive acts and postures in species that engage in either dominance or territorial or maternal aggression. Quantitative ethological analyses allow the precise delineation of the sequential organization of aggressive bursts, providing a benchmark for assessing excessive or pathological forms of aggressive behavior. A second contribution of preclinical research is the development of experimental models of escalated forms of aggressive behavior, such as focusing on genetic predispositions or social provocations and frustrative experiences. A critical role of preclinical research is in the pharmacological and neurochemical analysis of aggressive behavior; for example, a host of undesirable side effects prompted a shift from classic dopaminergic neuroleptic compounds to the more recently developed atypical neuroleptics with effective and more specific anti-aggressive effects. The long-established role of brain serotonin in impulsive and escalated forms of aggressive behavior continues to be a focus of preclinical studies. New evidence differentiates dynamic state changes in corticolimbic serotonergic neurons during the termination of aggressive behavior from the deficient-serotonin trait in violence-prone individuals. It can be anticipated that currently developed tools for targeting the genes that code for specific subtypes of serotonin receptors will offer new therapeutic options for reducing aggressive behavior, and the 5-HT(1B) receptor appears to be a promising target. The modulation of GABA and GABA(A) receptors by 5-HT in corticolimbic neurons promises to be particularly relevant for specific forms of escalated aggressive behavior such as alcohol-heightened aggression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders
  • Drug Therapy / methods*
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Social Behavior Disorders / drug therapy
  • Social Behavior Disorders / genetics*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Social Dominance
  • Territoriality


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B
  • Receptors, GABA-A