Adding up the odds—Nitric oxide signaling underlies the decision to flee and post-conflict depression of aggression

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  13 Mar 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 2, e1500060
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500060


Fighting is dangerous, which is why animals choose to flee once the costs outweigh the benefits, but the mechanisms underlying this decision-making process are unknown. By manipulating aggressive signaling and applying nitrergic drugs, we show that the evolutionarily conserved neuromodulator nitric oxide (NO), which has a suppressing effect on aggression in mammals, can play a decisive role. We found that crickets, which exhibit spectacular fighting behavior, flee once the sum of their opponent’s aversive actions accrued during fighting exceeds a critical amount. This effect of aversive experience is mediated by the NO signaling pathway. Rather than suppressing aggressive motivation, NO increases susceptibility to aversive stimuli and with it the likelihood to flee. NO’s effect is manifested in losers by prolonged avoidance behavior, characteristic for social defeat in numerous species. Intriguingly, fighting experience also induces, via NO, a brief susceptible period to aversive stimuli in winners just after victory. Our findings thus reveal a key role for NO in the mechanism underlying the decision to flee and post-conflict depression in aggressive behavior.

  • assessment
  • social behavior
  • decision-making
  • agonistic signals
  • neuromodulation
  • loser effect
  • social subjugation
  • submissive behavior
  • susceptible period
  • insects

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances