Thursday, April 10, 2008

Howling Mad!

Scientists studying feline defensive rage liken it to human anger, saying that both emerge and unleash in the brain.

With each such advance in the understanding of the mammalian brain’s recipe for rage, scientists seem to be moving closer to developing medications to quell violent behavior in humans and other mammals.

In cats, such therapies may prevent the hissing, back arching, ear retraction, claw extensions and fur standing-on-end that are typical indicators of feline defensive rage.

In humans, related anger reveals itself with road rage, an impulsive form of anger that involves little or no thought.

“In road rage, the person never thinks about what he is doing but just acts in the way he does because he feels that he has been threatened by someone else and the impulsive behavior represents a way by which he can protect himself from such a threat,” Discovery News quoted co-author Allan Siegel, a professor in the Department of Neurology & Neurosciences at New Jersey Medical School in Newark, as saying.

“In reality, his actions are usually much more dangerous to him than to the person whom he perceived cut him off on the road,” added Siegel.

Previous studies had shown that anger is centered in the medial hypothalamus region of the brain.

In the latest study, the researchers electrically stimulated this brain region in 10 female cats, creating feline defensive rage among them. When a protein called an interleukin was introduced into the anger region of the cats brains, it fueled the felines rage.

Siegel says that the protein somehow attaches to a serotonin receptor, which is a critical neurotransmitter that helps inhibit everything from sleep to vomiting to sex and hunger in humans.

The researcher says that for anger, the interleukin reacts with the serotonin, and causes the neuron to which the serotonin is attached to discharge.

Before long, many neurons in the region start to discharge at a high rate, causing the individual to fall into a rage and behave defensively.

Since wild cats are very territorial, says Siegel, zoo tigers feel threatened and act aggressively whenever they face intruders, whether in zoo or in the wild.

An expert, who did not participate in the research, agreed with the findings outlines in the new study. "There is a possibility that new targets for therapeutic management of aggressive behaviour in humans can be developed,” said Hreday Sapru, director of Neurosurgical Laboratories at the New Jersey Medical School.

“In addition, this discovery may provide a basis for future studies that will unravel the underlying mechanisms of aggression and other related behaviors in animals,” Sapru added.

The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity.

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