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Mol Med. 1997 Sep;3(9):610-6.

Inhibition of neuronal nitric oxide synthase increases aggressive behavior in mice.

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Johns Hopkins University, Department of Psychology, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



Mice with targeted disruption of the gene for the neuronal isoform of nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) display exaggerated aggression. Behavioral studies of mice with targeted gene deletions suffer from the criticism that the gene product is missing not only during the assessment period but also throughout development when critical processes, including activation of compensatory mechanisms, may be affected. To address this criticism, we have assessed aggressive behavior in mice treated with a specific pharmacological inhibitor of nNOS.


Aggressive behavior, as well as brain citrulline levels, were monitored in adult male mice after treatment with a specific nNOS inhibitor, 7-nitroindazole (7-NI) (50 mg/kg i.p.), which is known to reduce NOS activity in brain homogenates by > 90%. As controls, animals were treated with a related indazole, 3-indazolinone (3-I) (50 mg/kg i.p.) that does not affect nNOS or with on oil vehicle.


Mice treated with 7-NI displayed substantially increased aggression as compared with oil- or 3-I-injected animals when tested in two different models of aggression. Drug treatment did not affect nonspecific locomotor activities or body temperature. Immunohistochemical staining for citrulline in the brain revealed a dramatic reduction in 7-NI-treated animals.


7-NI augmented aggression in WT mice to levels displayed by nNOS- mice, strongly implying that nNOS is a major mediator of aggression. NOS inhibitors may have therapeutic roles in inflammatory, cardiovascular, and neurologic diseases. The substantial aggressive behavior soon after administration of an nNOS inhibitor raises concerns about adverse behavioral sequelae of such pharmacological agents.

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