Social experience and sex-dependent regulation of aggression in the lateral septum by extrasynaptic δGABAA receptors

  • Johnathan M. Borland
  • James C. Walton
  • Alisa Norvelle
  • Kymberly N. Grantham
  • Lauren M. Aiani
  • Tony E. Larkin
  • Katharine E. McCann
  • H. Elliott AlbersEmail author
Original Investigation



Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms mediating dominance and competitive aggression is essential to understanding the development and treatment of various psychiatric disorders. Previous research suggests that these mechanisms are both sexually differentiated and influenced substantially by social experience. In numerous species, GABAA receptors in the lateral septum have been shown to play a significant role in aggression in males. However, very little is known about the role of these GABAA receptors in female aggression, the role of social experience on GABAA receptor–mediated aggression, or the roles of different GABAA subtypes in regulating aggression.


Thus, in the following set of experiments, we determined the role of social experience in modulating GABAA receptor–induced aggression in both male and female Syrian hamsters, with a particular focus on the GABAA receptor subtype mediating these effects.


Activation of GABAA receptors in the dorsal lateral septum increased aggression in both males and females. Social housing, however, significantly decreased the ability of GABAA receptor activation to induce aggression in males but not females. No significant differences were observed in the effects of GABAA receptor activation in dominant versus subordinate group-housed hamsters. Finally, examination of potential GABAA receptor subtype specificity revealed that social housing decreased the ratio of δ extrasynaptic to γ2 synaptic subunit GABAA receptor mRNA expression in the anterior dorsal lateral septum, while activation of δ extrasynaptic, but not γ2 synaptic, GABAA receptors in the dorsal lateral septum increased aggression.


These data suggest that social experience can have profound effects on the neuronal mechanisms mediating aggression, especially in males, and that δ extrasynaptic GABAA receptors may be an important therapeutic target in disorders characterized by high levels of aggression.


Social behavior Social isolation Agonistic behavior Sex differences Synaptic γ2GABAA receptors Dominance relationships 



GABAA receptor


Dorsal lateral septum


Anterior dorsal lateral septum






Medial septum



We thank Dr. Joseph I. Terranova for his assistance with these experiments.

Funding information

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health under award number F31MH113367 to JMB, F32NS092545 to JCW, and R01MH109302 and R01MH110212 to HEA and funds from the Brains and Behavior Program at Georgia State University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Animal procedures were carried out in accordance with the National Institutes of Health Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and approved by the Georgia State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or Georgia State University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johnathan M. Borland
    • 1
    • 2
  • James C. Walton
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alisa Norvelle
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kymberly N. Grantham
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lauren M. Aiani
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tony E. Larkin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Katharine E. McCann
    • 1
    • 2
  • H. Elliott Albers
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Center for Behavioral NeuroscienceGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Neuroscience InstituteGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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