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Elevated Childhood Serotonergic Function Protects Against Adolescent Aggression in Disruptive Boys

NCJ Number
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Volume: 45 Issue: 7 Dated: July 2006 Pages: 833-840
Jeffrey M. Halperin Ph.D.; Jessica H. Kalmar Ph.D.; Kurt P. Schulz Ph.D.; David J. Marks Ph.D.; Vanshdeep Sharma M.D.; Jeffrey H. Newcorn M.D.
Date Published
July 2006
8 pages
This longitudinal study examined whether responsiveness of the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) in childhood predicted adolescent aggression in a sample of 33 boys with disruptive behavior disorders.
After accounting for baseline aggression, early low 5-HT function accounted for a significant proportion of variance in adolescent aggression. These were most often adolescents who were aggressive in childhood. No child with high 5-HT function was significantly aggressive in adolescence. The study concludes that although low childhood 5-HT function plays a role in the emergence of adolescent aggression, it is not the sole cause of problematic aggression; however, early high 5-HT function may be a significant protector against aggression in adolescence. A challenge for future research is to determine how 5-HT interacts with environmental and social factors in the emergence and decline of aggressive behavior. The level of 5-HT in childhood may identify which aggressive children are at risk to persist with and possibly increase their aggressive behavior in adolescence. The 33 boys were initially assessed between August 1990 and January 1994 when the mean age of the sample was 9.1 years. Thirty-one of the 33 children met the criteria for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); of these, 14 had oppositional defiant disorder, and 11 showed conduct disorder. Functional responsiveness of the 5-HT system was assessed during childhood by means of the prolactin (PRL) response to a single oral 1 mg/kg dose of D,L-fenfluramine (FEN), which is a sympathomimetic agent that releases endogenous stores of 5-HT, blocks reuptake of synaptic 5-HT, and stimulates postsynaptic 5-HT receptors both directly and indirectly. The magnitude of the PRL response is considered to reflect overall 5-HT function in the hypothalmic-pituitary axis. At follow-up, adolescents (mean age of 15.8 years) and their parents were administered several semistructured interviews and rating scales that focused on aggression, antisocial behavior, and substance use. 2 figures, 2 tables, and 60 references