Neural networks of aggression: ALE meta-analyses on trait and elicited aggression

Brain Struct Funct. 2019 Jan;224(1):133-148. doi: 10.1007/s00429-018-1765-3. Epub 2018 Oct 5.


There is considerable evidence that emotion dysregulation and self-control impairments lead to escalated aggression in populations with psychiatric disorders. However, convergent quantitative evidence on the neural network explaining how aggression arises is still lacking. To address this gap, peak activations extracted from extant functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies were synthesized through coordinate-based meta-analyses. A systematic search in the PubMed database was conducted and 26 fMRI studies met the inclusion criteria. Three separate activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses were performed on (1) individual differences in trait aggression (TA) studies, (2) individual differences in TA studies examining executive functioning, and (3) elicited aggression (EA) studies across fMRI behavioral paradigms. Ensuing clusters from ALE meta-analyses were further treated as seeds for follow-up investigations on consensus connectivity networks (CCN) delineated from meta-analytic connectivity modeling (MACM) and resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) to further characterize their physiological functions. Finally, we obtained a data-driven functional characterization of the ensuing clusters and their networks. This approach offers a boarder view of the ensuing clusters using a boarder network perspective. In TA, aberrant brain activations were found only in the right precuneus. Follow-up analyses revealed that the precuneus seed was within the frontal-parietal network (FPN) associated with action inhibition, visuospatial processing and higher-level cognition. With further restricting to only experiments examining executive functioning, convergent evidence was found in the right rolandic operculum (RO), midcingulate cortex (MCC), precentral gyrus (PrG) and precuneus. Follow-up analyses suggested that RO, MCC and PrG may belong to a common cognitive control network, while the MCC seems to be the hub of this network. In EA, we only revealed a convergent region in the left postcentral gyrus. Follow-up CCN analyses and functional characterizations suggested that this region may also belong to the same cognitive control network found in the TA sub-analysis. Our results suggested that escalated aggression arises from abnormal precuneus activities within the FPN, disrupting the recruitment of other large-scale networks such as adaptive cognitive control network. Consequently, failure to recruit such a network results in an inability to generate adaptive responses, increasing the likelihood of acting aggressively.

Keywords: ALE; MACM; Meta-analysis; Resting-state functional connectivity; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult