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Aggression-related gene weakens brain's impulse control circuits

had increased reactivity in the fear (amygdala) and memory (hippocampus) hubs. Men with L were also deficient during a task requiring them to inhibit a simple motor response; they failed to activate a part of the brain (cingulate cortex) important for inhibiting such behavioral impulses. This region was, conspicuously, the cortex area that was most reduced in volume.

The findings echo those of a 2005 NIMH study** showing how another serotonin-related gene variant shapes the same mood-regulating circuit. In this study also, the gene version that boosts serotonin levels resulted in impaired emotion-related lower brain structures, increased fear hub activation and a weaker response of its regulatory circuits. Yet, the effects of the L version of MAO-A were more extensive, perhaps reflecting the fact that it also impacts another key mood-regulating neurotransmitter, norepinephrine.

The weakened regulatory circuits in men with L are compounded by intrinsically weaker connections between the orbital frontal cortex and amygdala in all men, say the researchers.

"Heightened sensitivity in brain circuits important to cognitive inhibition and memory for negative emotional information may contribute to increased vulnerability of men with L exposed to abuse during childhood," suggested Weinberger. "Since only men showed gene effects in several of these circuits, this could lead to a situation where multiple brain control mechanisms are impaired and contribute to manifestly violent behavior, a kind of genetic double jeopardy."


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Source:NIH/National Institute of Mental Health


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