Is hyper-aggressiveness associated with physiological hypoarousal? A comparative study on mouse lines selected for high and low aggressiveness

Doretta Caramaschi, S F de Boer, J M Koolhaas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Aggressiveness is often considered a life-long, persistent personality trait and is therefore expected to have a consistent neurobiological basis. Recent meta-analyses on physiological correlates of aggression and violence suggest that certain aggression-related psychopathologies are associated with low functioning of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and autonomic nervous system (ANS). We tested this hypothesis in mice selected for high and low aggressiveness by measuring baseline plasma corticosterone levels and, via radiotelemetry, heart rate and core body temperature. The radiotelemetric recordings were made for 48 h under baseline undisturbed conditions and for 90 min after a handling stressor. Consistent with the hypoarousal hypothesis of violence, we found lower resting heart rates in two out of the three highly aggressive selection lines. In contrast, body temperature during the active phase, as another ANS-regulated physiological parameter, was higher in two out of three highly aggressive lines. The handling-induced tachycardiac and hyperthermic responses were similar across the six mouse lines except for the most docile and obese line, which showed a blunted reactivity. Besides significant differences between strains, no differences in plasma corticosterone levels were found between the high- and low-aggressive phenotypes. These results are discussed in relation to the different types of aggression (normal versus pathological) exhibited by the three highly aggressive lines. We conclude that while high trait-like aggressiveness is generally associated with a higher active phase core body temperature, only animals that express pathological forms of aggression are characterized by a low resting heart rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-8
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2008


  • Aggression
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Corticosterone
  • Heart Rate
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Comparative Study
  • Journal Article


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