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Researchers Identify Neurons That Control Aggressive Behavior

Update Date: Apr 18, 2014 11:08 AM EDT

Researchers have genetically identified neurons that control aggressive behavior in the mouse hypothalamus. According to research, the structure lies deep in the brain. 

For the first time researchers have identified specific neurons in the brain that control these behaviors. Up until now, researchers were only aware that behaviors like mating and aggression were closely related. 

The research noted that the discovered neurons are strongly activated by the pulses of light using a method called optogenetics. In case of weaker activation, the same neurons triggered sniffing and mounting: mating behaviors. 

The findings hinted that the level of activity within the population of neurons may control the decision between mating and fighting. 

Researchers said they could switch the behavior of a single animal from mounting to attack by gradually increasing the strength of neuronal stimulation during a social encounter. 

The neurons initially were identified because they express a protein receptor for the hormone estrogen, reinforcing the view that estrogen plays an important role in the control of male aggression, contrary to popular opinion. Because the human brain contains a hypothalamus that is structurally similar to that in the mouse, these results may be relevant to human behavior as well, read the release. 

The findings of the study were published in journal Nature.

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