The impact of chronic stress during adolescence on the development of aggressive behavior: A systematic review on the role of the dopaminergic system in rodents

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Abstract

Pathological aggression, frequently observed in psychiatric patients and criminal subjects, poses a major burden on the health care and criminal justice system, necessitating better aetiological models to inform targets for prevention and intervention. Emerging evidence suggests that adverse experiences during development can cause long-lasting brain alterations associated with maladaptive behaviors, such as aggression. The present review discusses, mainly based on studies in rodents, whether disruption of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system through chronic stress-exposure during adolescence predisposes to adult aggression. Our findings suggest that chronic stress in adolescence induces prefrontal cortex (PFC) hyperdopaminergia and ultimately leads to blunted prefrontal dopamine transmission in adulthood. This, in turn, disrupts the ability of the PFC to guide adaptive, long-term focused action selection by regulating mesolimbic dopamine signaling. We propose that, especially during the dynamic and transitional period of adolescence, exposure to chronic stress could lead to excessive adaptive change, which may result in an increased vulnerability to maladaptive aggression in adulthood. We discuss how these findings in rodents may translate to humans.

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