Genomic and non-genomic effects of glucocorticoids on aggressive behavior in male rats

Éva Mikics, Menno R. Kruk, József Haller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

161 Citations (Scopus)


An increasing body of evidence suggests that glucocorticoids - besides their well-known genomic effects - can affect neuronal function via mechanisms that do not involve the genome. Data obtained mainly in amphibians and birds suggest that such mechanisms play a role in the control of behavior. Acute glucocorticoid treatments increase aggressive behavior in rats, but the mechanism of action has not been investigated to date. To clarify the issue, we have assessed the aggressiveness of male rats after treating them with the corticosterone synthesis inhibitor metyrapone, corticosterone, and the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide. Metyrapone applied intraperitoneally (i.p.) decreased the aggressiveness of residents faced with smaller opponents. Corticosterone administered i.p. 20 or 2 min before a 5-min encounter abolished these changes irrespective of the delay of behavioral testing. Thus, the effects of glucocorticoids on aggressive behavior occurred in less than 7 min (the delay and duration of testing taken together), and lasted more than 25 min. Corticosterone applied centrally (infused into the right lateral ventricle) also stimulated aggressive behavior rapidly, which shows that the effect was centrally mediated. The protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide did not affect the aggression-promoting effects of corticosterone when the hormone was injected 2 min before the aggressive encounter. Surprisingly, however, the effects were completely abolished when the hormone was injected 20 min before the encounter. These data suggest that glucocorticoids rapidly increase aggressive behavior via non-genomic mechanisms. In later phases of the aggressive encounter, aggressive behavior appears to be stimulated by genomic mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)618-635
Number of pages18
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2004


  • Aggression
  • Behavior
  • Corticosterone
  • Glucocorticoid
  • Mechanism
  • Non-genomic
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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