Brain serotonin deficiency affects female aggression in mice

Niklas Kästner

The neurotransmitter serotonin plays a key role in the control of aggressive behaviour. While so far most studies have investigated variation in serotonin levels, a recently created tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2) knockout mouse model allows studying effects of complete brain serotonin deficiency. First studies revealed increased aggressiveness in homozygous Tph2 knockout mice in the context of a resident-intruder paradigm. Focussing on females, this study aimed to elucidate effects of serotonin deficiency on aggressive and non-aggressive social behaviours not in a test situation but a natural setting. For this purpose, female Tph2 wildtype (n = 40) and homozygous knockout mice (n = 40) were housed with a same-sex conspecific of either the same or the other genotype in large terraria. The main findings were: knockout females displayed untypically high levels of aggressive behaviour even after several days of co-housing. Notably, in response to aggressive knockout partners, they showed increased levels of defensive behaviours. While most studies on aggression in rodents have focussed on males, this study suggests a significant involvement of serotonin also in the control of female aggression. Future research will show, whether the observed behavioural effects are directly caused by the lack of serotonin or by potential compensatory mechanisms.

Publication information

Title: Brain serotonin deficiency affects female aggression

Authors: Niklas Kästner, S Helene Richter, Sarah Urbanik, Joachim Kunert, Jonas Waider, Klaus-Peter Lesch, Sylvia Kaiser, Norbert Sachser

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2019