The glucocorticoid/aggression relationship in animals and humans: An analysis sensitive to behavioral characteristics, glucocorticoid secretion patterns, and neural mechanisms

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Abstract

Glucocorticoids control a wide array of biological processes from glucose homeostasis to neuronal function. The mechanisms mediating their effects are similarly varied and include rapid and transient nongenomic effects on calcium trafficking, various neurotransmitter receptors, and other membrane/cytoplasmic proteins, as well as slowly developing but durable genomic effects that are mediated by a large number of glucocorticoid-sensitive genes that are affected after variable lag-times. Given this complexity, we suggest that the aggression/glucocorticoid relationship cannot be reduced to the simple ‘‘stimulation/inhibition’’ question. Here, we review the effects of glucocorticoids on aggression by taking into account the complexities of glucocorticoid actions. Acute and chronic effects were differentiated because these are mediated by different mechanisms. The effects of chronic increases and decreases in glucocorticoid production were discussed separately, because the activation of mechanisms that are not normally activated and the loss of normal functions should not be confounded. Findings in healthy/normal subjects and those obtained in subjects that show abnormal forms of behavior or psychopathologies were also differentiated, because the effects of glucocorticoids are indirect, and largely depend on the properties of neurons they act upon, which are altered in subjects with psychopathologies. In addition, the conditions of glucocorticoid measurements were also thoroughly evaluated. Although the role of glucocorticoids in aggression is perceived as controversial by many investigators, a detailed analysis that is sensitive to glucocorticoid and behavioral measure as well as to the mediating mechanism suggests that this role is rather clear-cut; moreover, there is a marked similarity between animal and human findings.

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Haller, J. (2014). The glucocorticoid/aggression relationship in animals and humans: An analysis sensitive to behavioral characteristics, glucocorticoid secretion patterns, and neural mechanisms. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, 17, 73–109. https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2014_284

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