"Low levels of MAO A are one basis of the predisposition to aggression in humans. The other is an encounter with maltreatment, and the combination of the two factors appears to be deadly: it results consistently in violence in adults," Bortolato said.
The researchers show that in excessively aggressive rodents that lack MAO A, high levels of electrical stimulus are required to activate a specific brain receptor in the pre-frontal cortex. Even when this brain receptor does work, it stays active only for a short period of time.
"The fact that blocking this receptor moderates aggression is why this discovery has so much potential. It may have important applications in therapy," Bortolato said. "Whatever the ways environment can persistently affect behavior and even personality over the long term behavior is ultimately supported by biological mechanisms."
Importantly, the aggression receptor, known as NMDA, is also thought to play a key role in helping us make sense of multiple, coinciding streams of sensory information, according to Bortolato.
The researchers are now studying the potential side effects of drugs that reduce the activity of this receptor.
"Aggressive behaviors have a profound socio-economic impact, yet current strategies to reduce these staggering behaviors are extremely unsatisfactory," Bortolato said. "Our challenge now is to understand what pharmacological tools and what therapeutic regimens should be administered to stabilize the deficits of this receptor. If we can manage that, this could truly be an important finding."
|Contact: Suzanne Wu|
University of Southern California