Peripubertal stress-induced heightened aggression: modulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in the central amygdala and normalization by mifepristone treatment.


Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics, Brain Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. [Email]


Despite the enormous negative impact of excessive aggression for individuals and societies, there is a paucity of treatments. Here, using a peripubertal stress model of heightened aggression in rats, we investigated the involvement of the glucocorticoid system and tested the effectiveness of antiglucocorticoid treatment to normalize behavior. We assessed peripubertal stress-induced changes in glucocorticoid (GR) and mineralocorticoid (MR) gene expression in different amygdala nuclei and hippocampus, and report a specific increase in GR mRNA expression in the central amygdala (CeA). Administration of mifepristone (10 mg/kg), a GR antagonist, before stressor exposure at peripuberty prevented the habituation of plasma corticosterone responses observed throughout the stress protocol. This treatment also prevented the increase in aggression and GR expression in the CeA observed in peripubertally stressed rats at adulthood. Viral downregulation of CeA GR expression at adulthood led to reduced aggression. Subsequently, we showed that a brief, 3-day, treatment with mifepristone at adulthood was effective to normalize the abnormal aggression phenotype in peripubertally stressed rats. Our results support a key role for GR actions during peripubertal stress for the long-term programming of heightened aggression. Strikingly, they also support the translational interest of testing the effectiveness of mifepristone treatment to diminish reactive aggression in early adversity-related human psychopathologies.