A North Carolina State University researcher has created a roadmap to areas of the brain associated with affective aggression in mice. This roadmap may be the first step toward finding therapies for humans suffering from affective aggression disorders that lead to impulsive violent acts.
Affective aggression differs from defensive aggression or premeditated aggression used by predators, in that the role of affective aggression isn't clear and could be considered maladaptive. NC State neurobiologist Dr. Troy Ghashghaei was interested in finding the areas of the brain engaged with this type of aggressive behavior. Using mice that had been specially bred for affective aggression by his research associate Dr. Derrick L Nehrenberg, Ghashghaei and former undergraduate student Atif Sheikh were able to locate the regions in the mouse brain that switched on and those that were off when the mice displayed affective aggression.
"The brain works by using clusters of neurons that cross communicate at extremely rapid rates, much like a computer," Ghashghaei explains. "One region will process a stimulus, and then that region sends messages to other clusters within the brain, like circuits within a computer. We looked at how the switches flipped in the brains of aggressive mice, and compared that with the brains of completely nonaggressive mice in the same setting, to see how the two processed the situation differently."
They found that affectively aggressive mice demonstrated a large difference in the way their "executive centers" operated when the mice encountered another mouse. "Sensory inputs come in and are sent to the executive center, the part of the brain that decides how to respond to the input," Ghashghaei says. "In the meantime, the information about the response you made gets processed back with either a pleasant or unpleasant association."
According to Ghashghaei, the affectively aggressive mice could react violently because their brains are hardwiredto respond to certain situations aggressively without assessing whether their response to the situation is appropriate or without regard to the behavior's consequences. In addition, affectively aggressive mice may be forming pleasant associations with their violent displays, which would reinforce their aggressive tendencies.