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Am J Psychiatry. 2000 Apr;157(4):609-14.

Association of aggressive behavior with altered serotonergic function in patients who are not suicidal.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, USA.



The purpose of this study was to determine whether aggression and serotonergic dysfunction are related in the absence of a history of suicidal behavior. Although serotonergic dysfunction has been implicated in aggressive and impulsive behavior, most studies of such behavior have included individuals with a history of suicide attempts. Low concentrations of CSF 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) have been consistently associated with suicidal behavior, presenting a potential confound in the link between aggression and serotonergic dysfunction.


The authors examined the association between aggression and CSF 5-HIAA concentrations in a group of 64 patients who had different DSM-III-R axis I diagnoses and no past suicidal behavior. Aggressive (N=35) and nonaggressive (N=29) groups were defined by a median split on a six-item history of adulthood aggressive behavior.


The aggressive group had significantly lower CSF 5-HIAA concentrations than the nonaggressive group. Aggressive individuals also scored significantly higher on self-report measures of hostility, impulsiveness, and sensation seeking. CSF 5-HIAA concentrations, however, did not correlate with self-reported hostility and impulsivity.


There is an association between aggressive behavior and serotonergic dysfunction independent of suicidal behavior in patients with axis I disorders who exhibit relatively milder forms of aggressive behavior. Analogous to findings with suicidal behavior, a low concentration of CSF 5-HIAA is related to aggressive behavior but does not show the same relationship to the continuum of aggressive feelings and thoughts.

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