Functional neuroimaging studies in adults show that aggression involves reduced brain communication between subcortical and cortical areas dedicated to motivation and control, respectively. Prior research indicates that sex steroid hormone production during adolescence negatively influences the rapid development of white matter connectivity between subcortical and cortical areas during adolescence and may potentiate aggression. Here, we tested this hypothesis in 258 participants between 8 and 25 years of age by using Diffusion Weighted Imaging to examine the microstructure of white matter connections within the fronto-temporal-subcortical network. Trait aggression was measured using the Buss Perry Aggression Questionnaire and testosterone and estradiol levels were measured in saliva. Results indicated that higher levels of testosterone were associated with less white matter integrity within the fronto-temporal-subcortical network (i.e., higher mean diffusivity [MD] longitudinal [LD], and radial diffusivity [RD]). Furthermore, lower fractional anisotropy and higher MD, LD, and RD values within this network increased expressive forms of aggression and reduced inhibited forms of aggression (hostility). Our study indicates higher levels of testosterone relating to lower quality of structural cortical-subcortical connectivity, arguably resulting in a shift from inhibited towards expressive forms of aggression. Our data adds evidence to the idea that aggressive tendencies are subcortically driven, but individuals with relatively high testosterone might have lower structural connectivity within cortical control areas, resulting in a stronger tendency to act on these aggressive tendencies. Hum Brain Mapp 36:1043-1052, 2015.
- Diffusion tensor imaging
- White matter