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PLoS One. 2010 Jun 22;5(6):e11255. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011255.

Brain serotonin synthesis in adult males characterized by physical aggression during childhood: a 21-year longitudinal study.

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Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.



Adults exhibiting severe impulsive and aggressive behaviors have multiple indices of low serotonin (5-HT) neurotransmission. It remains unclear though whether low 5-HT mediates the behavior or instead reflects a pre-existing vulnerability trait.


In the present study, positron emission tomography with the tracer alpha-[(11)C]methyl-L-tryptophan ((11)C-AMT) was used to compare 5-HT synthesis capacity in two groups of adult males from a 21-year longitudinal study (mean age +/- SD: 27.1+/-0.7): individuals with a history of childhood-limited high physical aggression (C-LHPA; N = 8) and individuals with normal (low) patterns of physical aggression (LPA; N = 18). The C-LHPA males had significantly lower trapping of (11)C-AMT bilaterally in the orbitofrontal cortex and self-reported more impulsiveness. Despite this, in adulthood there were no group differences in plasma tryptophan levels, genotyping, aggression, emotional intelligence, working memory, computerized measures of impulsivity, psychosocial functioning/adjustment, and personal and family history of mood and substance abuse disorders.


These results force a re-examination of the low 5-HT hypothesis as central in the biology of violence. They suggest that low 5-HT does not mediate current behavior and should be considered a vulnerability factor for impulsive-aggressive behavior that may or may not be expressed depending on other biological factors, experience, and environmental support during development.

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