Brain monoamine oxidase A activity predicts trait aggression

Nelly Alia-Klein, Rita Z. Goldstein, Aarti Kriplani, Jean Logan, Dardo Tomasi, Benjamin Williams, Frank Telang, Elena Shumay, Anat Biegon, Ian W. Craig, Fritz Henn, Gene Jack Wang, Nora D. Volkow, Joanna S. Fowler

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193 Scopus citations


The genetic deletion of monoamine oxidase A (MAO A), an enzyme that breaks down the monoamine neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, produces aggressive phenotypes across species. Therefore, a common polymorphism in the MAO A gene (MAOA, Mendelian Inheritance in Men database number 309850, referred to as high or low based on transcription in non-neuronal cells) has been investigated in a number of externalizing behavioral and clinical phenotypes. These studies provide evidence linking the low MAOA genotype and violent behavior but only through interaction with severe environmental stressors during childhood. Here, we hypothesized that in healthy adult males the gene product of MAO A in the brain, rather than the gene per se, would be associated with regulating the concentration of brain amines involved in trait aggression. Brain MAO A activity was measured in vivo in healthy non-smoking men with positron emission tomography using a radioligand specific for MAO A (clorgyline labeled with carbon 11). Trait aggression was measured with the multidimensional personality questionnaire (MPQ). Here we report for the first time that brain MAO A correlates inversely with the MPQ trait measure of aggression (but not with other personality traits) such that the lower the MAO A activity in cortical and subcortical brain regions, the higher the self-reported aggression (in both MAOA genotype groups) contributing to more than one-third of the variability. Because trait aggression is a measure used to predict antisocial behavior, these results underscore the relevance of MAO A as a neurochemical substrate of aberrant aggression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5099-5104
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - 7 May 2008


  • Aggression
  • Clorgyline
  • Human
  • MAOA
  • Personality
  • Violence


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