The psychopharmacology of aggressive behavior: a translational approach: part 1: neurobiology

J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Feb;32(1):83-94. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0b013e31823f8770.


Patients with mental disorders are at an elevated risk for developing aggressive behavior. In the last 19 years, the psychopharmacological treatment of aggression has changed dramatically because of the introduction of atypical antipsychotics into the market and the increased use of anticonvulsants and lithium in the treatment of aggressive patients.Using a translational medicine approach, this review (part 1 of 2) examines the neurobiology of aggression, discussing the major neurotransmitter systems implicated in its pathogenesis, namely, serotonin, glutamate, norepinephrine, dopamine, and γ-aminobutyric acid, and also their respective receptors. The preclinical and clinical pharmacological studies concerning the role of these neurotransmitters have been reviewed, as well as research using transgenic animal models. The complex interaction among these neurotransmitters occurs at the level of brain areas and neural circuits such as the orbitoprefrontal cortex, anterior cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, periaqueductal gray, and septal nuclei, where the receptors of these neurotransmitters are expressed. The neurobiological mechanism of aggression is important to understand the rationale for using atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and lithium in treating aggressive behavior. Further research is necessary to establish how these neurotransmitter systems interact with brain circuits to control aggressive behavior at the intracellular level.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / drug effects*
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / drug effects
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology
  • Translational Research, Biomedical*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter