Disruption of the vasopressin 1b receptor gene impairs the attack component of aggressive behavior in mice

Genes Brain Behav. 2007 Oct;6(7):653-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2006.00294.x. Epub 2006 Dec 20.


Vasopressin affects behavior via its two brain receptors, the vasopressin 1a and vasopressin 1b receptors (Avpr1b). Recent work from our laboratory has shown that disruption of the Avpr1b gene reduces intermale aggression and reduces social motivation. Here, we further characterized the aggressive phenotype in Avpr1b -/- (knockout) mice. We tested maternal aggression and predatory behavior. We also analyzed the extent to which food deprivation and competition over food increases intermale aggression. We quantified defensive behavior in Avpr1b -/- mice and later tested offensive aggression in these same mice. Our results show that attack behavior toward a conspecific is consistently reduced in Avpr1b -/- mice. Predatory behavior is normal, suggesting that the deficit is not because of a global inability to detect and attack stimuli. Food deprivation, competition for food and previous experience increase aggression in both Avpr1b +/+ and -/- mice. However, in these circumstances, the level of aggression seen in knockout mice is still less than that observed in wild-type mice. Defensive avoidance behaviors, such as boxing and fleeing, are largely intact in knockout mice. Avpr1b -/- mice do not display as many 'retaliatory' attacks as the Avpr1b +/+ mice. Interestingly, when territorial aggression was measured following the defensive behavior testing, Avpr1b -/- mice typically show less initial aggressive behavior than wild-type mice, but do show a significant increase in aggression with repeated testing. These studies confirm that deficits in aggression in Avpr1b -/- mice are limited to aggressive behavior involving the attack of a conspecific. We hypothesize that Avpr1b plays an important role in the central processing that couples the detection and perception of social cues (which appears normal) with the appropriate behavioral response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / genetics*


  • Receptors, Vasopressin