dimarts, 26 de novembre de 2013

Neurobiology and gender-based violence

Yesterday we commemorated the International Day Against Gender-Based Violence, a date that all of us should remember in order to multiply the efforts directed to eradicate this social scourge. It is important to note that social and educational factors play a fundamental role in this kind of violence and it is in these fields where the most important initiatives should be taken. However, has biology something to say on this matter? Is there a neurobiological basis on which we can act to prevent this problem more efficaciously? We have a wide knowledge of the structure and the physiology of the neural circuits involved in aggression, in which the activity of a brain region termed amygdala is fundamental. Several factors are crucial to in the modulation of aggressive behavior, including stress, specially during adolescence. However, when one reviews the scientific literature, it is extremely difficult to find studies directed to understand how the brain participates specifically in gender-based violence or intersexual aggression. Fortunately, there are already some evidences, which suggest the existence of a neurobiological basis to explain the apparition of aggressive phenomena specific from males against females. Last year a study1 was published in Translational Psychiatry from a research team lead by Carmen Sandi and signed as first author by Maribel Cordero, two outstanding Spanish researchers who develop their work in the Brain and Mind Institute of the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. In this study, performed in rats, the authors demonstrated that males become specially aggressive towards females during adulthood after being exposed to stressful experiences during their adolescence. Surprisingly, the male offspring of couples involving one of these aggressive males also showed an intense aggressive behavior towards their female partners, despite the fact that they never lived with their natural parents and that they were never exposed to any kind of violence. Moreover, both the females that were partners of the aggressive fathers and those of their progeny, showed different symptoms and neurobiological alterations typical of anxiety and depression, which were similar to those found in battered and depressed women. All these results support the idea that the exposure of males to an adverse environment during youth may be a triggering factor for aggressive behaviors towards females during adulthood and that these behaviors are, by ways still unexplored, transmitted to their progeny. There is, obviously, still a long distance between these animal models and the situation of abuse suffered by so many women around the world. However, the findings of this interesting study open new roads for research directed to understand the neurobiological basis of this type of violence, suggest putative therapeutic targets on which to act in the future and impulse the development of innovative research lines, which will enhance our knowledge on aggression and its focalization on women.

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