Saturday, September 24, 2011

Anger and Serotonin

My buddy Jamie Scott is a research machine.  It's all I can do to keep up with the interesting papers and links he emails my direction.  Today's article is yet another one we owe to his sharp eye.  He also has brand new digs at a wordpress blog (*brief moment of jealousy*) - so edit/add him to your blogroll and check it out:

Some music - I rather adore the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Here's an oldie but a goodie:  Gold Lion (right click to open in new tab).  Favorite comment on youtube:  "i think I just got whiplash rocking out to this song" [sic].

Want something a bit more classical?  How about a Chopin Nocturne played by none other than Rachmaninoff from 1927?  (You will not be rocking out, but it is quite lovely).

It's kinda cool.  Involves humans, which is always a plus.  It is one of those "view angry faces whilst in a functional MRI machine" which has some limitations, but it is pretty much the only way to see what's going on in real time in the old noggin, seeing as how it's rather awkward to test gene expression and neurotransmitter levels other ways without decapitation (not likely to pass the institutional review board any time soon, unless you were unfortunate enough to be born as a research rodent).  (Random aside - Andrew tweeted this REAL MIND READING finding yesterday.  Wow.) 

How many segues is that?  Welcome to my left-handed, small child-raising brain.  As we know, depletions in serotonin, especially in a particular communication circuit between the frontal lobes (the policeman) and the amygdala (the emotional/rage center of the brain) leads to anger and aggressive behaviors.  Now, there are some people who are just aggressive altogether - I'm thinking Drew Barrymore's boyfriend in one of the Charlie's Angels movies.  We're not talking about that.  We're talking about impulsive aggression.  All the sudden, you just want to jump out of your car and strangle the other driver who cut you off (please don't do this).  Impulsive aggression can be unexpected and very scary, and can certainly ruin lives.  

So what if it happens just because you forgot to eat your banana this morning???  Oh, don't worry, we are likely more resilient than all that… but in an experimental setting, one can pretty much abolish serotonin via a weird laboratory tryptophan-depleting drink.  Then you get into an MRI machine.  Then you look at pictures of angry faces (if I were running this experiment, I would pipe in some hard core metal, and not one of Chopin's Nocturnes).  Of course, I read A Clockwork Orange in high school.  The tryptophan-depleting drink significantly reduced both plasma tryptophan levels (remember, tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin) and the ratio of tryptophan to other long-chain neutral amino acids  (remember, tryptophan competes with these other amino acids for entrance into the brain).  

In the end, the reactions of the tryptophan-depleted individuals to the angry faces vs. controls was statistically significant.  Tryptophan-depleted folks had a higher response to the angry faces within the amygdala (the rage/anger part of the brain) compared to controls, and compared to the response to neutral faces.  These findings would suggest that, as suspected, serotonin helps you chill out and assess the situation when faced with an angry hoarde.  

Between the mind reading and the availability of a rapid acting tryptophan-depleting anger drink that will affect our aggressive reactions, I'm a little worried about the future of our free will.  But I'll try to eat some protein, micronutrients, a banana, and put my trust in the incompetence of bureaucracy in order to be less paranoid.


  1. A choodesny post, real horroshow. I like to deplete the tryptophan out of my rassoodock at the Korova Milkbar, sharpens me up for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

  2. I have tried mango juice for breakfast a few days in a row before, and I'm trying it again now, but I don't think it made a difference. All I want to do is stab stab stab, as usual. Maybe being stabby is part of my essential being, and no amount of serotonin can change it. Oh well, I guess I'll embrace it.

    Hey Sean you seem like my kind of dude!

  3. Stabby, I was just messing around because Dr Deans mentioned Clockwork Orange. But if you really do have violent urges, I would hope you seek out professional help. Violence is never a solution. I mean, sure, there was that insurance agent I had to, uhm, I mean, well, it wasn't violent, it was just necesary. And it wasn't at all related to serotonin levels.

  4. So 'a hungry man is an angry man.' This isn't exactly news but it does qualify as another "science confirms folk wisdom" tale. Not that science isn't fond of turning folk wisdom into the rubbish bin also.....

  5. I've really been meaning to chase down the paper that has the ingredients to the anger drink...

  6. Quote:

    The problem with extra fatty acids in the blood is that they need to attach to albumin as a carrier protein for proper transport. In doing so, the fatty acids displace tryptophan from its place on albumin and facilitate the transport of tryptophan into the brain for conversion into serotonin (Hassmen et al., 1994). Therefore, due to the combination of reduced BCAA and elevated fatty acids in the blood, more tryptophan enters the brain and more serotonin is produced, leading to central fatigue (Tanaka et al. 1997). Supplementing the diet with additional levels of BCAA is thought to block the tryptophan transport and, therefore, delay fatigue (Blomstrand et al., 1997).

    Looks like BCAA and hell lot of fructose will do the trick ?

  7. I imagine an army general giving his troop a "victory tonic" right before an assault...

    Or a plant infiltrating a pacific demonstration/protest serving tryptophan-depleter-laced sugar-free lemonade to the participants...

    Could it also be a convenient way to rig a dog fight ? Mind you, they mistreat those poor dogs so much, they might already be tryptophan-depleted...

  8. Sorry to use this post but there is no contact form.

    Also, it seems I have problems to post a comment.

    Interesting on MB, micronutrients, folic acid, Mg, etc.

    # 529 - BEST OF - 100 Yr Old Dye Reverses Brain Aging And May Cure Alzheimer's Disease :: Guest: Guest: Dr. Bruce Ames :: Just a little over 100 years ago the first synthetic dye used in the lab was formulated - Methylene Blue. Research has shown that this compound may possess far greater benefits than highlighting a specimen. ::

  9. Is Jamie Scott still alive. :)
    Could use such a man...


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