MAOA-VNTR polymorphism modulates context-dependent dopamine release and aggressive behavior in males

Thorben Schlueter*, Oliver Winz, Karsten Henkel, Thomas Eggermann, Siamak Mohammadkhani-Shali, Claudia Dietrich, Alexander Heinzel, Michel Decker, Paul Cumming, Klaus Zerres, Markus Piel, Felix M. Mottaghy, Ingo Vernaleken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A recent [F-18]FDOPA-PET study reports negative correlations between dopamine synthesis rates and aggressive behavior. Since dopamine is among the substrates for monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), this investigation examines whether functional allelic variants of the MAOA tandem repeat (VNTR) promotor polymorphism, which is known to modulate aggressive behavior, influences dopamine release and aggression in response to violent visual stimuli. We selected from a genetic prescreening sample, strictly case-matched groups of 2 x 12 healthy male subjects with VNTRs predictive of high (MAOA-High) and low (MAOA-Low) MAOA expression. Subjects underwent pairs of PET sessions (dopamine D-2/3 ligand [F-18]DMFP) while viewing a movie of neutral content, versus violent content. Directly afterwards, aggressive behavior was assessed by the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP). Finally, PET data of 23 participants and behavioral data of 22 participants were analyzed due to post hoc exclusion criteria. In the genetic prescreening sample MAOA-Low carriers had significantly increased scores on the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire. In the PET-study-group, aggressive behavior under the emotional neutral condition was significantly higher in the MAOA-Low group. Interestingly, the two MAOA-groups showed inverse dopaminergic and behavioral reactions to the violent movie: The MAOA-High group showed higher dopamine release and increased aggression after the violent movie; MAOA-Low subjects showed decreases in aggressive behavior and no consistent dopamine release. These results indicate a possible impact of the MAOA-promotor polymorphism on the neurobiological modulation of aggressive behavior. However, the data do not support approaches stating that MAOA-Low fosters aggression by a simple pro-dopaminergic mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-385
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2016


  • Dopamine
  • PET
  • DMFP
  • Aggression
  • MAOA

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