Gene Variations Contribute to Aggression, Anger in Women

Issue Date: 
March 19, 2007

Ever wonder why some women seem to be more ill-tempered than others? Pitt researchers have found that behaviors such as anger, hostility, and aggression may be genetic, rooted in variations in a serotonin receptor gene.

Indrani Halder, a postdoctoral scholar in Pitt’s Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Program, presented the findings March 9 at the American Psychosomatic Society’s Annual Meeting in Budapest, Hungary.

Previous studies had associated the hormone serotonin with anger and aggression in both humans and animals and had shown that increased serotonin activity is related to a decrease in angry and aggressive behaviors. Halder and other Pitt researchers sought to determine if this relationship was genetically determined. The Pitt study was the first to look at the relationship between variations in the serotonin receptor 2C gene and anger and hostility.

Completed in Pitt’s Behavioral Physiology Laboratory, the study looked at 550 unrelated women of European descent. To find normal variations in genes and behavior, the women were not prescreened for behavioral type. Researchers found that those who had one or both of two alterations in the promoter region of the serotonin receptor 2C gene were more likely to score lower on two common tests for anger, hostility, and aggression.

These findings may aid in establishing a potential marker for certain conditions associated with aggression and anger.

Aggression and hostility are predictors of hypertension, glucose metabolism, and heart diseases,” said Halder. “The genetic marker we found for hostility also may be useful for predicting a person’s predisposition to such diseases.”