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Wallenberg grant for research on aggression

How is aggression controlled in the brain and what methods can we use to influence it? These are some of the questions that Christian Broberger, professor of neurochemistry, hopes to get answers to during a five-year project that now receives SEK 20.4 million from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

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Illustration: Stockholms universitet

“It is a fantastic opportunity to focus on our research and be able to give us a really challenging project. We are extremely happy for the trust that the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has shown us,” says Christian Broberger, professor of neurochemistry at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University.

The project “Network organization and dynamic control of aggression in the brain, from individual confrontations to behavioral expressions over the life cycle”, which consists of four subprojects uses mice to investigate and identify the dynamic interactions in the brain that create aggression over different time periods - immediately during a confrontation between different individuals, how a personality changes when circumstances so require and during the development of an adult individual.

“In recent years, we have learned a lot about which nerve cells in the brain are involved in aggression and other social behaviors”, says Christian Broberger. “We have begun to understand the ‘architecture’ of the brain, but like all behaviors, aggression has dynamic qualities: an aggressive period occurs in a certain context and is triggered by specific stimuli. It does not last forever but ceases after a short or long time. And it is not always constant throughout life how aggressive an individual is but it can vary.”

Enable new treatment strategies

In this project, the research group will investigate what is happening in the brains of two mice that meet in an aggressive confrontation. Is the activity different between the dominant and the subordinate animal? What mechanisms in the brain can stop an ongoing attack? They also want to find out why female females who are not normally aggressive switch to an aggressive personality when they have newborn pups. How is the brain rearranged and what happens when the cubs grow up and the mother returns to her non-aggressive behavior? Through this, the researchers hope not only to understand the phenomenon of maternal aggression but also to gain general insight into how individuals under certain conditions can gain access to a pattern of behavior that they otherwise do not usually show.

The research project will run for five years and has now received a grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation of SEK 20.4 million. The results from this project can contribute new insights into how innate behaviors are organized and shaped in the brain, and how differences  in the brain can give rise to different behavioral patterns.

“In addition to this important basic knowledge of the organization of the nervous system and how it drives our actions, we also hope to be able to contribute insights that can contribute to new treatment strategies for pathological aggression and violence,” says Christan Broberger. Today, there is a lack of effective therapeutic tools to deal with these conditions. We also believe that we will be able to understand more about how the brain works when it lives in a world with other brains – that which is part of being a social being.

Read more about Christian Broberger, his research group and their research by clicking here (English).

Press realase by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation:
https://kaw.wallenberg.org/en/press/total-sek-541-million-granted-18-research-projects-sweden

Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation