, Volume 205, Issue 3, pp 349-368
Date: 30 Apr 2009

The effect of increased serotonergic neurotransmission on aggression: a critical meta-analytical review of preclinical studies

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The role of serotonin (5-HT) on aggression has been extensively studied; nonetheless, the role of this neurotransmitter in aggression is still inconclusive.


The current meta-analytical review investigated the role of increased 5-HT neurotransmission in aggression.


Preclinical studies using serotonin reuptake inhibitors, 5-hydroxytryptophan, l-tryptophan, or serotonin (5-HT) to increase 5-HT levels were included in this meta-analysis. An overall effect of serotonin on aggression was calculated, and the role of several moderator variables was analyzed.


A total of 218 effect sizes revealed that increased 5-HT had an overall significant inhibitory effect on aggression (r = 0.3). The results showed that increased 5-HT had the strongest inhibitory effect on aggression when (1) a specific strain or species (e.g., Long Evans) was used; (2) aggression was offensive or predatory and/or induced by administration of 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine or p-chlorophenylalanine; (3) zimelidine, sertraline, l-tryptophan, citalopram, or 5-HT were used to increase 5-HT; (4) treatment was acute; (5) long chronic treatment durations were used; and (6) time between last injection and behavior testing was within 8 h before or after peak plasma concentration of drug. In contrast, the results revealed that increased-5-HT-facilitated aggression could be predicted when (1) Wistar rats, (2) social isolation or stress to induce aggression, and/or (3) animals treated for less than 3 weeks were used.


Although 5-HT has an overall inhibitory effect on aggression, the animal's genetic background, drug, treatment time, aggression inducing paradigm, and aggression type are critical variables that influence and modify this effect.