Genetics and epigenetics of human aggression

TitleGenetics and epigenetics of human aggression
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsOdintsova, VV, Hagenbeek, FA, Van der Laan, CM, van de Weijer, S, Boomsma, DI
JournalHandbook of Clinical Neurology, Brain and Crime
KeywordsEpigenome-wide association studies, Epigenomics, genome-wide association studies, Genomics, heritability, Human aggression

There is substantial variation between humans in aggressive behavior, with its biological etiology and molecular genetic basis mostly unknown. This review chapter offers an overview of genomic and omics studies revealing the genetic contribution to aggression and first insights into associations with epigenetic and other omics (e.g., metabolomics) profiles. We allowed for a broad phenotype definition including studies on ``aggression,'' ``aggressive behavior,'' or ``aggression-related traits,'' ``antisocial behavior,'' ``conduct disorder,'' and ``oppositional defiant disorder.'' Heritability estimates based on family and twin studies in children and adults of this broadly defined phenotype of aggression are around 50%, with relatively small fluctuations around this estimate. Next, we review the genome-wide association studies (GWAS) which search for associations with alleles and also allow for gene-based tests and epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) which seek to identify associations with differently methylated regions across the genome. Both GWAS and EWAS allow for construction of Polygenic and DNA methylation scores at an individual level. Currently, these predict a small percentage of variance in aggression. We expect that increases in sample size will lead to additional discoveries in GWAS and EWAS, and that multiomics approaches will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the molecular underpinnings of aggression.