Genomics of human aggression: current state of genome-wide studies and an automated systematic review tool

Veronika V. Odintsova, Peter J. Roetman, Hill F. Ip, René Pool, Camiel M. Van der Laan, Klodiana Daphne Tona, Robert R.J.M. Vermeiren, Dorret I. Boomsma

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There are substantial differences, or variation, between humans in aggression, with its molecular genetic basis mostly unknown. This review summarizes knowledge on the genetic contribution to variation in aggression with the following three foci: (1) a comprehensive overview of reviews on the genetics of human aggression, (2) a systematic review of genome-wide association studies (GWASs), and (3) an automated tool for the selection of literature based on supervised machine learning. The phenotype definition 'aggression' (or 'aggressive behaviour', or 'aggression-related traits') included anger, antisocial behaviour, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. The literature search was performed in multiple databases, manually and using a novel automated selection tool, resulting in 18 reviews and 17 GWASs of aggression. Heritability estimates of aggression in children and adults are around 50%, with relatively small fluctuations around this estimate. In 17 GWASs, 817 variants were reported as suggestive (P ≤ 1.0E), including 10 significant associations (P ≤ 5.0E). Nominal associations (P ≤ 1E) were found in gene-based tests for genes involved in immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Associations were not replicated across GWASs. A complete list of variants and their position in genes and chromosomes are available online. The automated literature search tool produced literature not found by regular search strategies. Aggression in humans is heritable, but its genetic basis remains to be uncovered. No sufficiently large GWASs have been carried out yet. With increases in sample size, we expect aggression to behave like other complex human traits for which GWAS has been successful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-190
Number of pages21
JournalPsychiatric genetics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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