From aggression to autism: new perspectives on the behavioral sequelae of monoamine oxidase deficiency

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2018 Nov;125(11):1589-1599. doi: 10.1007/s00702-018-1888-y. Epub 2018 May 10.


The two monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzymes, A and B, catalyze the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The phenotypic outcomes of MAO congenital deficiency have been studied in humans and animal models, to explore the role of these enzymes in behavioral regulation. The clinical condition caused by MAOA deficiency, Brunner syndrome, was first described as a disorder characterized by overt antisocial and aggressive conduct. Building on this discovery, subsequent studies were focused on the characterization of the role of MAOA in the neurobiology of antisocial conduct. MAO A knockout mice were found to display high levels of intermale aggression; however, further analyses of these mutants unveiled additional behavioral abnormalities mimicking the core symptoms of autism-spectrum disorder. These findings were strikingly confirmed in newly reported cases of Brunner syndrome. The role of MAOB in behavioral regulation remains less well-understood, even though Maob-deficient mice have been found to exhibit greater behavioral disinhibition and risk-taking responses, supporting previous clinical studies showing associations between low MAO B activity and impulsivity. Furthermore, lack of MAOB was found to exacerbate the severity of psychopathological deficits induced by concurrent MAOA deficiency. Here, we summarize how the convergence of clinical reports and behavioral phenotyping in mutant mice has helped frame a complex picture of psychopathological features in MAO-deficient individuals, which encompass a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental problems. This emerging knowledge poses novel conceptual challenges towards the identification of the endophenotypes shared by autism-spectrum disorder, antisocial behavior and impulse-control problems, as well as their monoaminergic underpinnings.

Keywords: Aggression; Animal models; Autism; Behavior; Brunner syndrome; Impulse control; Monoamine oxidase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics*
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics*
  • Monoamine Oxidase / metabolism


  • Monoamine Oxidase