Identifying a key neurological regulator of social memory and aggression

2014

Challenge

Aggressive behavior in humans—particularly when it is socially inappropriate or violent—can be a symptom of mental illness. Brain activity during inappropriate aggression is not fully understood, making prevention and treatment difficult for patients, families, and healthcare providers. Research indicates that social behavior in mammals is regulated by the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin.

Advance

IRP researchers led by W. Scott Young, M.D., Ph.D., and Serena Dudek, Ph.D., led a study that identified a single vasopressin receptor, Avpr1b, located primarily in the brain’s hippocampal region, as a key regulator of social memory and social aggression. 

Impact

A number of psychiatric diseases with social components appear to involve the hippocampus or the Avpr1b receptor, such as childhood aggression, autistic traits, and schizophrenia. With this information, researchers can now pursue the development of targeted therapies that can help correct misperceptions of potential threat and reduce inappropriately aggressive behavior and violence.

Publications

Pagani JH, Zhao M, Cui Z, Williams Avram SK, Caruana DA, Dudek SM, and Young WS. (2015). Role of the vasopressin 1b receptor in rodent aggressive behavior and synaptic plasticity in hippocampal area CA2. Molecular Psychiatry. 20(4), 490-9.