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Keywords:

  • 5-HT1B receptor;
  • aggression;
  • amygdala;
  • gene expression;
  • hypothalamus;
  • midbrain;
  • real-time PCR;
  • serotonin;
  • transcription;
  • violence

Low to moderate doses of alcohol consumption induce heightened aggressive behavior in some, but not all individuals. Individual vulnerability for this nonadaptive behavior may be determined by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors with the sensitivity of alcohol's effects on brain and behavior. We used a previously established protocol for alcohol oral self-administration and characterized alcohol-heightened aggressive (AHA) mice as compared with alcohol non-heightened (ANA) counterparts. A week later, we quantified mRNA steady state levels of several candidate genes in the serotonin [5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)] system in different brain areas. We report a regionally selective and significant reduction of all 5-HT receptor subtype transcripts, except for 5-HT3, in the prefrontal cortex of AHA mice. Comparable gene expression profile was previously observed in aggressive mice induced by social isolation or by an anabolic androgenic steroid. Additional change in the 5-HT1B receptor transcripts was seen in the amygdala and hypothalamus of AHA mice. In both these areas, 5-HT1B mRNA was elevated when compared with ANA mice. In the hypothalamus, AHA mice also showed increased transcripts for 5-HT2A receptor. In the midbrain, 5-HT synthetic enzyme, 5-HT transporter and 5-HT receptors mRNA levels were similar between groups. Our results emphasize a role for postsynaptic over presynaptic 5-HT receptors in mice which showed escalated aggression after the consumption of a moderate dose of alcohol. This gene expression profile of 5-HT neurotransmission components in the brain of mice may suggest a vulnerability trait for alcohol-heightened aggression.