In male golden hamsters, offensive aggression is regulated by an interaction between arginine-vasopressin and serotonin at the level of the anterior hypothalamus. The present studies were conducted to study a neural network underlying this interaction. The connections of the anterior hypothalamus were examined by retrograde and anterograde tracing in adult male hamsters. Several limbic areas were found to contain both types of tracing suggesting reciprocal connections with the anterior hypothalamus. Their functional significance relating to the consummation of aggression was tested by comparing neuronal activity (examined through quantification of c-Fos-immunolabeling) in two groups of animals. Experimental animals were sacrificed after attacking an intruder. Control animals were sacrificed after exposure to a woodblock carrying the odor of an intruder that elicited behaviors related to offensive aggression without its consummation. An increased density of Fos-immunoreactivity was found in experimental animals within the medial amygdaloid nucleus, ventrolateral hypothalamus, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and dorsolateral part of the midbrain central gray. These data suggest that these areas are integrated in a neural network centered on the anterior hypothalamus and involved in the consummation of offensive aggression. Finally, c-Fos-immunoreactivity was combined with labeling of serotonin and vasopressin neurons to identify sub-populations particularly associated with offensive aggression. Vasopressin neurons in the nucleus circularis and medial division of the supraoptic nucleus showed increased neuronal activity in the fighters, supporting their role in the control of offensive aggression.

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