Study reveals the brain regulates social behavior differently in males and females

October 31, 2016 by Natasha De Veauuse Brown
Credit: Georgia State University

The brain regulates social behavior differently in males and females, according to a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Elliott Albers, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and Regents' Professor of Neuroscience at Georgia State University, and graduate student Joseph I. Terranova, has discovered that serotonin (5-HT) and arginine-vasopressin (AVP) act in opposite ways in males and females to influence aggression and dominance. Because dominance and aggressiveness have been linked to stress resistance, these findings may influence the development of more effective gender-specific treatment strategies for stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.

"These results begin to provide a neurochemical basis for understanding how the social brain works quite differently in males and females," said Albers.

Prominent sex differences occur in the incidence, development and clinical course of many neuropsychiatric disorders. Women, for example, have higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while men more frequently suffer from autism and attention deficit disorder. Despite profound sex differences in the expression of and the incidence of these psychiatric disorders, little is known about how the brain mechanisms underlying these phenomena differ in females and males. Further, limited knowledge exists regarding sex differences in the efficacy of treatments for these disorders. As a result, current treatment strategies are largely the same for both sexes.

In this study conducted in hamsters, the researchers investigated the hypothesis that 5-HT promotes and AVP inhibits aggression and dominance in females and that 5-HT inhibits and AVP promotes aggression and dominance in males. Their data show strong support for this hypothesis with the discovery that 5-HT and AVP act in opposite ways within the hypothalamus to regulate dominance and aggression in females and males.

This study also found that administration of the 5-HT reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for psychiatric disorders, increased aggression in and inhibited aggression in . These studies raise the possibility that stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders such as PTSD may be more effectively treated with 5-HT-targeted drugs in women and with AVP-targeted drugs in men.

The research team involved in this discovery included Dr. Zhimin Song, Tony E. Larkin, Nathan Hardcastle Alisa Norvelle and Ansa Riaz from Georgia State's Neuroscience Institute.

The next step will be to investigate whether there are in the efficacy of 5-HT- and AVP-active drugs in reducing social stress.

Explore further: A possible explanation for why male mice tolerate stress better than females

More information: Serotonin and arginine–vasopressin mediate sex differences in the regulation of dominance and aggression by the social brain, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1610446113

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promytius1
not rated yet Nov 07, 2016
Back in 1964 in Psych 101 I argued with my professor over a rat study that claimed insights into human behavior. So in 50 years they've moved all the way up to hamsters?
Lower vertebrates have little if Anything to do with human social interactions. This is not science, it is pap. Zero conclusions can be drawn from silly wastes of time such as this. There are no double-blind results reported, there are no follow-up, no concurrent studies; these are results thrown on a staircase and disguised as "science" - all a hamster study will tell you maybe - maybe - is a small thing about hamsters. Take nothing scientific away from this article unless it's "there wasn't any."

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