Neurobiology Links Aggressive Behavior and Addiction Interview with:

Scott J. Russo PhD Fishberg Dept. of Neuroscience Friedman Brain Institute, and Center for Affective Neuroscience Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, NY

Dr. Russo

Scott J. Russo PhD
Fishberg Dept. of Neuroscience
Friedman Brain Institute, and Center for Affective Neuroscience
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, NY What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: There is increasing evidence that aggressive behavior might share key features with addiction.  For example, aggressive mice develop positive associations with environmental cues associated with previous aggressive encounters (ie. they find aggression rewarding) and aggressive animals will work very hard to obtain access to a subordinate animal in order to attack them.

Some of the same brain regions that are activated in response to addictive drugs, like cocaine and morphine, are also activated by aggressive experience.  Thus we hypothesized that there may be shared neurobiological mechanisms between addiction and aggression.

Our study showed that there is accumulation of the addiction-related transcription factor, ΔFosB, in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region well know to regulate the rewarding and addictive properties of drugs of abuse. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Aggressive behaviors are associated with a range of psychiatric illness and create a substantial financial and emotional burden to society.  Despite this we have very few treatments for aggression.  Our studies suggest that we may be able to treat aggression by targeting mechanisms that control the motivation one has to engage in violent or aggressive behavior. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: It will be important to understand to what extent these mechanisms translate to human aggression pathologies.  One recent study by Decety and colleagues (Biol Psychiatry, 2009) showed that the nucleus accumbens of subjects with conduct disorder, and condition marked by heightened aggression and violence, is activated when they witness another person in pain.  This suggests that these subjects find others suffering to be rewarding, which may be a factor in driving their own violent/aggressive behavior.

Chronic addiction or use of illicit substances can often precipitate aggression and violence in humans.  It would be interesting to see whether shared mechanisms, like ΔFosB up regulation in the nucleus accumbens, drives comorbid aggressive disorders with addiction. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Aggression is an innate behavior shared across mammalian and non-mammalian species. In most cases it’s not pathological and rather serves an adaptive purpose allowing the individual to defend its territory or procure resources.  Thus, we don’t want to remove aggression from society but rather to find ways of mitigating forms of maladaptive or pathological aggression.  This will be important to consider as we seek to find drugs that aide in the treatment of aggressive disorders.


Cell-type-specific role of ΔFosB in nucleus accumbens in modulating inter-male aggression

Hossein Aleyasin, Meghan E. Flanigan, Sam A. Golden, Aki Takahashi, Caroline Menard, Madeline L. Pfau, Jacob Multer, Jacqueline Pina, Kathryn A. McCabe, Naemal Bhatti, Georgia E. Hodes, Mitra Heshmati, Rachael L. Neve, Eric J. Nestler, Elizabeth A. Heller and Scott J. Russo
Journal of Neuroscience 11 June 2018, 0296-18; DOI: 

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Last Updated on June 13, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD