A brain receptor, an enzyme monoamine oxidase A, has been identified by scientists whose malfunctioning can trigger sudden violence and rage.
By blocking the receptor, which also exists in humans, scientists stripped the mice of their extreme aggressiveness, potentially paving the way to new treatment for severely aggressive behaviour.
The findings by researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) and Italy are a significant breakthrough in developing drug targets for pathological aggression, a component in many common psychological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.
"From a clinical and social point of view, reactive aggression is absolutely a major problem," said Marco Bortolato, research assistant professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC School of Pharmacy, who led the study. "We want to find the tools that might reduce impulsive violence," said Bortolato, according to an USC statement.
A large body of independent research, including past work by Bortolato and his colleague and senior study author Jean Shih, has identified low levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO A). Both male humans and mice with congenital deficiency of the enzyme respond violently in response to stress.