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Ultradian Corticosterone Rhythm and the Propensity to Behave Aggressively in Male Rats


J. Haller, Institute of Experimental Medicine, 1450 Budapest, PO Box 67, Hungary (e-mail:


Ultradian fluctuations in plasma glucocorticoids have been demonstrated in a variety of species including humans. The significance of such rhythms is poorly known, although disorganized ultradian glucocorticoid rhythms have been associated with behavioural disorders. Here we report that ultradian glucocorticoid rhythms may establish the propensity to behave aggressively in male rats. Male rats were significantly more aggressive in the increasing phase of their corticosterone fluctuation when confronting a male intruder than counterparts in the decreasing phase of their corticosterone fluctuations facing such opponents. Corticosterone fluctuations were mimicked by a combination of treatments with the corticosterone synthesis inhibitor metyrapone and corticosterone. Again, males with increased plasma corticosterone levels were more aggressive than counterparts with a decreased plasma corticosterone concentration. These data suggest that the behavioural response to an aggressive challenge may vary in the same animal across the day due to the pulsating nature of corticosterone secretion. Aggressive behaviour is also episodic in humans; moreover, intermittent explosive behaviour is recognized as a psychological disorder. It can be hypothesized that a temporal coincidence between the occurrence of a challenge and a surge in plasma corticosterone concentration may be one of the factors that promote episodic aggressive outbursts.