Neurochemical characterization of hypothalamic neurons involved in attack behavior: glutamatergic dominance and co-expression of thyrotropin-releasing hormone in a subset of glutamatergic neurons

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neuroscience, Volume 133, Number 3, p.657-666 (2005)

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Aggression; analysis; Animals; AREA; Behavior; cytology; electrical stimulation; ELECTRICAL-STIMULATION; gamma-Aminobutyric Acid; Gene Expression; genetics; Glutamic Acid; Imaging; Three-Dimensional; In Situ Hybridization; Male; Membrane Transport Proteins


The electrical stimulation of a specific hypothalamic area rapidly evokes attacks in rats. Noteworthy, attack-related hypothalamic structures were identified in all species studied so far. The area has been extensively mapped in rats, and its anatomical connections have been studied in detail. However, technical difficulties precluded earlier the precise identification of the neural elements mediating the aggressive effects of stimulation. It now appears that a dense and distinct group of glutamatergic cells expressing vesicular glutamate transporter 2 mRNA extends over the entire hypothalamic attack area. Rostral parts overwhelmingly contained glutamatergic neurons. In more caudal parts, glutamatergic and fewer GABAergic neurons were found. The remarkable similarity in the distribution of hypothalamic attack area and glutamatergic cell groups suggests that these cells mediate the aggressive effects of stimulation. Surprisingly, thyrotropin releasing hormone mRNA was co-localized in a subset of glutamatergic neurons. Such neurons were present at all rostro-caudal levels of the hypothalamic attack area, except for that part of the hypothalamic attack area extending into the ventro-lateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus. Earlier data on the projections of hypothalamic thyrotropin releasing hormone neurons suggest that this subpopulation plays a specific role in attack behavior. Thus, we identified three neuronal phenotypes in the hypothalamic structure that is involved in the induction of attacks: glutamatergic neurons co-expressing thyrotropin releasing hormone, glutamatergic neurons without thyrotropin releasing hormone, and GABAergic neurons dispersed among the glutamatergic cells. Assessing the specific roles and connections of these neuron subpopulations would contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying attack behavior and aggression