Aggression may be present across a large part of the spectrum of psychopathology, and underlies costly criminal antisocial behaviors. Human aggression is a complex and underspecified construct, confounding scientific discovery. Nevertheless, some biologically tractable subtypes are apparent, and one in particular-impulsive (reactive) aggression-appears to account for many facets of aggression-related dysfunction in psychiatric illness. Impulsive-aggression is significantly heritable, suggesting genetic transmission. However, the specific neurobiological mechanisms that mediate genetic risk for impulsive-aggression remain unclear. Here, we review extant data on the genetics and neurobiology of individual differences in impulsive-aggression, with particular attention to the role of genetic variation in Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) and its impact on serotonergic signaling within corticolimbic circuitry.
Stress is a significant risk factor for the development of psychopathology, particularly symptoms related to reward processing. Importantly, individuals display marked variation in how they perceive and cope with stressful events, and such differences are strongly linked to risk for developing psychiatric symptoms following stress exposure. However, many questions remain regarding the neural architecture that underlies inter-subject variability in perceptions of stressors. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) paradigm, we examined the effects of self-reported perceived stress levels on neural activity during reward anticipation and feedback in a sample of healthy individuals. We found that subjects reporting more uncontrollable and overwhelming stressors displayed blunted neural responses in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) following feedback related to monetary gains as well monetary losses. This is consistent with preclinical models that implicate the mPFC as a key site of vulnerability to the noxious effects of uncontrollable stressors. Our data help translate these findings to humans, and elucidate some of the neural mechanisms that may underlie stress-linked risk for developing reward-related psychiatric symptoms.
Preferences for different combinations of costs and benefits are a key source of variability in economic decision-making. However, the neurochemical basis of individual differences in these preferences is poorly understood. Studies in both animals and humans have demonstrated that direct manipulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) significantly impacts cost/benefit decision-making, but less is known about how naturally occurring variation in DA systems may relate to individual differences in economic behavior. In the present study, 25 healthy volunteers completed a dual-scan PET imaging protocol with [(18)F]fallypride and d-amphetamine to measure DA responsivity and separately completed the effort expenditure for rewards task, a behavioral measure of cost/benefit decision-making in humans. We found that individual differences in DA function in the left striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex were correlated with a willingness to expend greater effort for larger rewards, particularly when probability of reward receipt was low. Additionally, variability in DA responses in the bilateral insula was negatively correlated with willingness to expend effort for rewards, consistent with evidence implicating this region in the processing of response costs. These findings highlight the role of DA signaling in striatal, prefrontal, and insular regions as key neurochemical mechanisms underlying individual differences in cost/benefit decision-making.
The panoply of cognitive, affective, motivational, and social functions that underpin everyday human experience requires precisely choreographed patterns of interaction between networked brain regions. Perhaps not surprisingly, diverse forms of psychopathology are characterized by breakdowns in these interregional relationships. Here, we discuss how functional brain imaging has provided insights into the nature of brain dysconnectivity in mental illness. Synthesizing work to date, we propose that genetic and environmental risk factors impinge upon systems-level circuits for several core dimensions of cognition, producing transdiagnostic symptoms. We argue that risk-associated disruption of these circuits mediates susceptibility to broad domains of psychopathology rather than discrete disorders.