Research Topic

In Search of Mechanisms: Genes, Brains, and Environment in Aggressive Behavior

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Aggression is a behavior with evolutionary origins as a heritable trait essential for survival and fitness. However, in today's society it is often both destructive and maladaptive, as context-inappropriate aggression can cause harm to society, families, and individuals.

In general terms, aggression ...

Aggression is a behavior with evolutionary origins as a heritable trait essential for survival and fitness. However, in today's society it is often both destructive and maladaptive, as context-inappropriate aggression can cause harm to society, families, and individuals.

In general terms, aggression may be defined as hostile behavior with the intention of inflicting damage or harm, but it is a behaviorally and etiologically complex phenomenon, including traits such as rule breaking, violence, delinquency, and criminality. Diagnostic categories of aggressive behavior include conduct disorder (CD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Increased aggressive behavior has also been observed in a number of serious mental illnesses and has been associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

The heritability of human aggression has been estimated at around 50% and its complex genetic architecture interacts with environmental factors. Decades of animal studies have yielded strong neurochemical and physiological evidence that points to conserved common pathways across species such as serotoninergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission and hormonal signaling. Additionally, transgenic animal models are commonly used to study the neurobiological mechanisms underlying aggressive traits and have led to new insights into neurobiological aspects of aggression. Moreover, aggressive behavior has been associated with several neuro-cognitive deficits. Structural and functional imaging studies indicated an important role for subcortical structures in aggression etiology, most notably the amygdala and striatum.

There are many questions regarding the neurobiology of aggression and the interplay of environmental factors. An integration of this knowledge may ultimately improve clinical diagnoses and therapeutic interventions. The great heterogeneity of aggressive behavior still hampers the understanding of its causal mechanisms. However, recent studies at the environmental, genetic, neurobiological and behavioral level, generate novel insights into the molecular and neurocognitive underpinnings of aggressive behavior, as e.g. the identification of specific subtypes of aggression has released possibilities for new and individualized treatment approaches. Moreover, neuroimaging studies may help to further elucidate the interrelationship between brain structure and connectivity, neurocognitive functioning, personality traits, and antisocial and violent behavior. Recent studies indicated manipulable neurobehavioral targets and may suggest modulatory neurofeedback approaches.

In this Research Topic we welcome research focusing on the identification of the underlying mechanisms of aggressive behavior at different levels of (genetic, neurobiological and cognitive) complexity. This Topic aims to integrate different aspects of epidemiological research, molecular genetics, functional animal models, neurobiological and psychological aspects, and brain imaging studies in the field of aggressive behavior and in the search of new treatments.

All contributions addressing studies, i.e., experimental research articles as well as systematic reviews, adding to our understanding of the causes and mechanisms of aggressive behavior and related traits will be welcome. By studying the pathway from gene to maladaptive behavior and integrating information from various disciplines this Topic aims to shed some light on the differential etiological pathways of aggression.


Keywords: Aggressive Behavior, Genetics, Neurobiology, Animal Models, Brain Imaging


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