Esr1+ cells in the ventromedial hypothalamus control female aggression

Nat Neurosci. 2017 Nov;20(11):1580-1590. doi: 10.1038/nn.4644. Epub 2017 Sep 18.


As an essential means of resolving conflicts, aggression is expressed by both sexes but often at a higher level in males than in females. Recent studies suggest that cells in the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl) that express estrogen receptor-α (Esr1) and progesterone receptor are essential for male but not female mouse aggression. In contrast, here we show that VMHvlEsr1+ cells are indispensable for female aggression. This population was active when females attacked naturally. Inactivation of these cells reduced female aggression whereas their activation elicited attack. Additionally, we found that female VMHvl contains two anatomically distinguishable subdivisions that showed differential gene expression, projection and activation patterns after mating and fighting. These results support an essential role of the VMHvl in both male and female aggression and reveal the existence of two previously unappreciated subdivisions in the female VMHvl that are involved in distinct social behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Animals
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / biosynthesis*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / cytology*
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism*


  • Estrogen Receptor alpha