Individual differences in estrogen receptor α in select brain nuclei are associated with individual differences in aggression

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Abstract

Steroid hormones play an important role in modulating social behavior in many species. Estrogens are thought to act on an interconnected network of hypothalamic and limbic brain areas to affect aggressive behavior, although the specific nuclei unknown remain unspecified. We show that individual variation in estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) immunoreactivity in the lateral septum (LS), ventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (vBNST), and anterior hypothalamus (AHA) of CD-1 mice is positively correlated with aggressive behavior. When males were treated with fadrozole (an aromatase inhibitor), aggressive behavior was reduced, although castration did not reduce aggression. These results suggest that estrogens modulate aggressive behavior by acting on a circuit that includes the LS, vBNST, and AHA and that the source of estrogens is non-gonadal. Fadrozole also decreased c-fos expression in the lateral septum following aggressive encounters. Although the effects of estrogen on aggression appear to involve regulation of neuronal activity in the LS, additional processes are likely involved. These results suggest that estrogen acts in a specific subset of a complex network of nuclei to affect aggressive behavior.

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