Lack of Serotonin Receptor Plays Role in Aggressive and Impulsive Behaviors

April 16, 2015

New York, NY (April 16, 2015) – A new study of aggression and impulsivity, which are common in psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder, as well as in ADHD, substance abuse, and pathological gambling, has found that “turning off” the serotonin 1B receptor during adolescence increases irreversible aggression in adulthood in a mouse model.

The finding by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute may have implications for treatment. The study was published today in the online edition of Neuron.

Serotonin’s role in social and emotional behavior is well documented. The researchers examined the role of the serotonin 1B receptor, in particular, in mediating aggressive and impulsive behaviors. “A number of people who display increased impulsive and/or aggressive behavior have alterations in the gene for this serotonin receptor,” said Katherine Nautiyal, PhD, the lead researcher.  “When the receptor is absent in mice, they are much more aggressive and impulsive.” Dr. Nautiyal and her colleagues found that they could reverse impulsivity, but not aggression, in the mice.

“Aggressive behavior seems ‘developmentally programmed,’ meaning that turning a subset of receptors off during adolescence results in increased aggressive behavior in adulthood that can’t be fixed by turning the receptor back on. Impulsive behavior, however, seems to be regulated by a subset of receptors that is expressed in adulthood.

The finding adds to our understanding of the neural basis of aggressive and impulsive behavior. It also lays the groundwork for future imaging studies, to further investigate brain circuits in patients with psychiatric disorders marked by aggression and impulsivity. The potential benefits could include “better stratification of patient populations so that better diagnoses and more effective treatments are possible,” said René Hen, PhD, a senior author of the paper and professor of neuroscience and pharmacology.

The title of the paper is “Distinct Circuits Underlie the Effects of 5-HT1B Receptors on Aggression and Impulsivity.”

The other contributors are Kenji Tanaka, Mary Barr, Laurent Tritschler, Yannick Le Dantec, Denis David, Alain Gardier, Carlos Blanco, and Susanne Ahmari.

The study was funded by F32MH100888, Early Stage Investigator Award National from the Center for Responsible Gaming and T32 MH015174 (Dr. Nautiyal); an R01 MH082773 (Dr. Blanco); K08 MH087718, a Gerstner Scholar Grant, a Paul Janssen Translational Research Fellowship Burroughs and a Wellcome CAMS Award (Dr. Ahmari); and R01 MH083862 and R37 MH068542 (Dr. Hen).

The authors declare no financial or other conflicts of interest.


Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and New York State Psychiatric Institute (Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI)

New York State Psychiatric Institute (founded in 1896) and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry have been closely affiliated since 1925. Their co-location in a New York State facility on the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center campus provides the setting for a rich and productive collaborative relationship among scientists and physicians in a variety of disciplines. Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI are ranked among the best departments and psychiatric research facilities in the nation and have contributed greatly to the understanding of and current treatment for psychiatric disorders.  The Department and Institute are home to distinguished clinicians and researchers noted for their clinical and research advances in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders and childhood psychiatric disorders.  Their combined expertise provides state of the art clinical care for patients, and training for the next generation of psychiatrists and psychiatric researchers.   Visit and for more information.

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Departmental News, InPsych - March 2015, Press Releases