Exaggerated aggression and decreased anxiety in mice deficient in brain serotonin

Transl Psychiatry. 2012 May 29;2(5):e122. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.44.


Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS). Dysregulation of serotonin transmission in the CNS is reported to be related to different psychiatric disorders in humans including depression, impulsive aggression and anxiety disorders. The most frequently prescribed antidepressants and anxiolytics target the serotonergic system. However, these drugs are not effective in 20-30% of cases. The causes of this failure as well as the molecular mechanisms involved in the origin of psychological disorders are poorly understood. Biosynthesis of serotonin in the CNS is initiated by tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2). In this study, we used Tph2-deficient (Tph2(-/-)) mice to evaluate the impact of serotonin depletion in the brain on mouse behavior. Tph2(-/-) mice exhibited increased depression-like behavior in the forced swim test but not in the tail suspension test. In addition, they showed decreased anxiety-like behavior in three different paradigms: elevated plus maze, marble burying and novelty-suppressed feeding tests. These phenotypes were accompanied by strong aggressiveness observed in the resident-intruder paradigm. Despite carrying only one copy of the gene, heterozygous Tph2(+/-) mice showed only 10% reduction in brain serotonin, which was not sufficient to modulate behavior in the tested paradigms. Our findings provide unequivocal evidence on the pivotal role of central serotonin in anxiety and aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Agonistic Behavior / physiology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depression / genetics
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Genetic Carrier Screening
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phenotype
  • Serotonin / deficiency*
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase / deficiency
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase / genetics


  • Serotonin
  • Tph2 protein, mouse
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase