Stability of interindividual differences in serotonin function and its relationship to severe aggression and competent social behavior in rhesus macaque females

Neuropsychopharmacology. 1996 Jan;14(1):67-76. doi: 10.1016/S0893-133X(96)80060-1.


Few studies have investigated longitudinally interindividual stability of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) concentrations in adult nonhuman primates across time and between baseline and stressful conditions. Furthermore, whereas studies with male macaques consistently have reported a significant, negative correlation between CSF 5-HIAA and rates of spontaneous aggression, wounding, and severe aggression, very few studies have examined this relationship in adult female nonhuman primates. Even fewer studies have investigated correlations between CSF 5-HIAA and competent social behavior, such as social dominance, in female monkeys. In the present study, two social groups of adult rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were formed by placing 16 females (aged 42 to 180 months, mean age: 68 months) in one of two indoor-outdoor enclosures with one or two adult males. CSF norepinephrine (NE), monoamine metabolites, and behavioral data were collected systematically over a 24-week period. In week 5 of the study, one additional female, not familiar to any of the other subjects, was added to each social group. Thereafter the groups were left undisturbed, and data characterizing spontaneous aggressive wounding and severe wound injuries in the females were collected for an additional year. The results showed that both group introduction and the addition of a new subject into each group resulted in increased monoamine turnover in the animals within the social groups. Interindividual differences in CSF concentrations of each of the monoamine metabolites and NE were highly stable from the baseline period to the stress samplings, and between stress samplings. Females with low CSF 5-HIAA exhibited higher rates of spontaneous aggressive wounding, and they were more likely to be removed from their social groups for aggressive wounding and/or treatment of injuries. CSF NE concentrations also were negatively correlated with rates of spontaneous aggression. In contrast, competitive aggression, i.e. noninjurious aggression used to maintain social dominance ranking, was not correlated with CSF 5-HIAA or NE. Females with above average CSF 5-HIAA prior to and following group formation were more likely to attain and maintain a high social dominance ranking within their social group than females with below average CSF 5-HIAA. The present findings indicate that CNS monoamine functioning in adult female rhesus macaques is traitlike, showing a high degree of interindividual stability across time and setting. These findings also suggest a role for serotonin in controlling impulses that regulate aggression and that competent social behavior among nonhuman primates may require average or above average serotonin functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / metabolism*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Methoxyhydroxyphenylglycol / metabolism
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Serotonin / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors


  • Serotonin
  • Methoxyhydroxyphenylglycol
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid
  • Norepinephrine