Inter-male aggression is an essential component of social behavior in organisms from insects to humans. However, when expressed inappropriately, aggression poses significant threats to the mental and physical health of both the aggressor and the target. Inappropriate aggression is a common feature of numerous neuropsychiatric disorders in humans and has been hypothesized to result from the atypical activation of reward circuitry in response to social targets. The lateral habenula (LHb) has recently been identified as a major node of the classical reward circuitry and inhibits the release of dopamine from the midbrain to signal negative valence. Here, we discuss the evidence linking LHb function to aggression and its valence, arguing that strong LHb outputs to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) are likely to play roles in aggression and its rewarding components. Future studies should aim to elucidate how various inputs and outputs of the LHb shape motivation and reward in the context of aggression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Aggression
  • Bullying
  • Mesolimbic dopamine circuit
  • Reward


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