Pathological aggression is a debilitating feature of many neuropsychiatric disorders, and cingulate cortex is one of the brain areas centrally implicated in its control. Here we explore the specific role of midcingulate cortex (MCC) in the development of pathological aggression. To this end, we investigated the structural and functional degeneration of MCC in the BALB/cJ strain, a mouse model for pathological aggression. Compared to control animals from the BALB/cByJ strain, BALB/cJ mice expressed consistently heightened levels of aggression, as assessed by the resident-intruder test. At the same time, immunohistochemistry demonstrated stark structural degradation in the MCC of aggressive BALB/cJ mice: Decreased neuron density and widespread neuron death were accompanied by increased microglia and astroglia concentrations and reactive astrogliosis. cFos staining indicated that this degradation had functional consequences: MCC activity did not differ between BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ mice at baseline, but unlike BALB/cByJ mice, BALB/cJ mice failed to activate MCC during resident-intruder encounters. This suggests that structural and functional impairments of MCC, triggered by neuronal degeneration, may be one of the drivers of pathological aggression in mice, highlighting MCC as a potential key area for pathologies of aggression in humans.
Keywords: aggression; astrogliosis; cFos; cingulate cortex; neuronal degeneration; resident-intruder test.