Neural mechanisms of genetic risk for impulsivity and violence in humans

Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Joshua W. Buckholtz, Bhaskar Kolachana, Ahmad R. Hariri, Lukas Pezawas, Giuseppe Blasi, Ashley Wabnitz, Robyn Honea, Beth Verchinski, Joseph H. Callicott, Michael Egan, Venkata Mattay, Daniel R. Weinberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

619 Scopus citations


Neurobiological factors contributing to violence in humans remain poorly understood. One approach to this question is examining allelic variation in the X-linked monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene, previously associated with impulsive aggression in animals and humans. Here, we have studied the impact of a common functional polymorphism in MAOA on brain structure and function assessed with MRI in a large sample of healthy human volunteers. We show that the low expression variant, associated with increased risk of violent behavior, predicted pronounced limbic volume reductions and hyperresponsive amygdala during emotional arousal, with diminished reactivity of regulatory prefrontal regions, compared with the high expression allele. In men, the low expression allele is also associated with changes in orbitofrontal volume, amygdala and hippocampus hyperreactivity during aversive recall, and impaired cingulate activation during cognitive inhibition. Our data identify differences in limbic circuitry for emotion regulation and cognitive control that may be involved in the association of MAOA with impulsive aggression, suggest neural systems-level effects of X-inactivation in human brain, and point toward potential targets for a biological approach toward violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6269-6274
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 18 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Antisocial
  • Functional MRI
  • Monoamine oxidase A
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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