Does serotonin influence aggression? comparing regional activity before and during social interaction

Physiol Biochem Zool. Sep-Oct 2005;78(5):679-94. doi: 10.1086/432139. Epub 2005 Jul 29.


Serotonin is widely believed to exert inhibitory control over aggressive behavior and intent. In addition, a number of studies of fish, reptiles, and mammals, including the lizard Anolis carolinensis, have demonstrated that serotonergic activity is stimulated by aggressive social interaction in both dominant and subordinate males. As serotonergic activity does not appear to inhibit agonistic behavior during combative social interaction, we investigated the possibility that the negative correlation between serotonergic activity and aggression exists before aggressive behavior begins. To do this, putatively dominant and more aggressive males were determined by their speed overcoming stress (latency to feeding after capture) and their celerity to court females. Serotonergic activities before aggression are differentiated by social rank in a region-specific manner. Among aggressive males baseline serotonergic activity is lower in the septum, nucleus accumbens, striatum, medial amygdala, anterior hypothalamus, raphe, and locus ceruleus but not in the hippocampus, lateral amygdala, preoptic area, substantia nigra, or ventral tegmental area. However, in regions such as the nucleus accumbens, where low serotonergic activity may help promote aggression, agonistic behavior also stimulates the greatest rise in serotonergic activity among the most aggressive males, most likely as a result of the stress associated with social interaction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Male
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Social Dominance*


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Serotonin
  • Corticosterone