Brain structures that control sexual and aggressive behaviors in mice are wired differently in females than in males, according to a study led by Dayu Lin, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and of neuroscience and physiology at NYU Langone Health’s Neuroscience Institute.
In an article published in September 2017 in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers reported that although aggression control resides in the same brain region in female and male mice, certain groups of neurons in that region are organized differently in females and males.
The region in question is the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl), an area on the underside of the hypothalamus that Dr. Lin’s team identified as a key aggression center in male mice during a landmark 2011 study.
The current study monitored the neural activity of both sexes during fights with mice that entered their boxed space and during mating. In male mice, a widely distributed group of cells fired during both activities; in females, cells in the center of the VMHvl fired during fights, whereas cells along the borders of the VMHvl fired during mating.
“Our study furthers the understanding of how aggression differs in male and female brains,” Dr. Lin observes. “Such research is a fundamental step toward the development of drugs that treat pathological aggression in humans.”