Serotonin Levels and Aggression Linked [Study]

Chris Greenhough - Author

Jun. 16 2013, Updated 12:20 a.m. ET

Low levels of serotonin and increased aggression are linked, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered our basic ape brains struggle to control emotional responses to anger when low on the chemical serotonin. Low serotonin levels are related to hunger or stress. Conclusion: stuffing your face can help solve tetchiness.

The study, explain the white coats at Cambridge, reveals why certain individuals are more prone to aggression. The findings appeared in the journal Biological Psychiatry , and could pave the way for new forms of treatment for psychiatric patients who suffer from aggressive or violent symptoms.

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As Luca Passamonti, who worked on the research with colleagues at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, explains: “Although these results came from healthy volunteers, they are also relevant for a broad range of psychiatric disorders.”

30 volunteers took part in the study. On the serotonin depletion day, researchers would give each participant a cocktail of amino acids that lacked tryptophan, the building block for serotonin. On other days, known as ‘placebo days,’ they ingested the same mixture but with a standard amount of tryptophan.

The brains of participants were then scanned as they were shown faces with angry, sad, and neutral expressions. The results showed how low brain serotonin made communications between the frontal lobes and a structure known as the amygdala weaker.

Passamonti stated that the study could help explain the brain mechanisms of a disorder known as intermittent explosive disorder (IED):

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“Individuals with IED typically can have intense, uncontrollable outbursts of violence which may be triggered by cues such as a facial expression of anger. We are hopeful that our research will lead to improved diagnostics as well as better treatments for this and other conditions.”

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