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Physiol Behav. 1996 Jul;60(1):25-9.

Testosterone facilitates aggression by modulating vasopressin receptors in the hypothalamus.

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Psychiatry Department, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester 01655, USA.


In many species, testosterone treatment facilitates offensive aggression tested in resident-intruder models. As the mechanisms of action of testosterone remain unclear, we hypothesized that testosterone interacts with neurotransmitter systems involved in the regulation of offensive aggression. We tested this hypothesis with the vasopressinergic system in golden hamsters in three separate experiments. First, we compared the density of V1 vasopressin (VAP) receptor binding between castrated animals treated with testosterone and their untreated controls. The most noticeable difference was found within the ventrolateral hypothalamus (VLH), a site involved in the control of aggression in several species of mammals. Within this area, V1 AVP receptor binding disappeared after castration, while being maintained by testosterone-treatment. Second, we tested behavioral effects of AVP within the VLH. Microinjections of AVP (100 nl, 1 or 100 microM) within the VLH accelerated the onset of offensive aggression in testosterone-treated animals. However, AVP-injected animals did not bite more than their vehicle-injected controls. Third, microinjections of AVP failed to activate offensive aggression in animals deprived of testosterone. As AVP receptors appeared to overlay previously described distributions of androgen and estrogen receptors in golden hamsters, we propose that testosterone facilitates the onset of offensive aggression, at least partly, through an activation of AVP receptors within the VLH.

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