"Anxiolytic" and "anxiogenic" benzodiazepines and β-carbolines: effects on aggressive and social behavior in rats and squirrel monkeys

Elise M. Weerts, Walter Tornatzky, Klaus A. Miczek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ethopharmacological studies on the behavior of socially housed rats and squirrel monkeys were conducted to explore the role of the benzodiazepine GABAA-coupled ionophore receptor complex in aggressive and social interactions. Benzodiazepine receptor (BZR) antagonists, ZK 93426 (1-10 mg/kg) and flumazenil (3-10 mg/kg), the partial agonist, ZK 91296 (1-10 mg/kg) and the partial inverse agonists RO 15-4513 (0.3-10 mg/kg), were administered to (1) squirrel monkeys prior to 1 h focal observations within established social groups or to (2) resident male rats before confrontations with a naive male intruder in their home cage for 5 min. Aggression was modified in a similar manner in both species, although squirrel monkeys were more sensitive to BZR challenges. Specifically, resident male rats showed dose dependent reductions in attack bites directed at intruder males that were significant at the highest dose of ZK 93426 (10 mg/kg). In squirrel monkeys, ZK 93426 (3 and 10 mg/kg) reduced aggressive grasps, threats and displays, as well as reducing the duration of being the target of aggression from untreated group members (1-10 mg/kg). The BZR partial agonist, ZK 91296 and the antagonist, flumazenil produced few effects on social behavior, low and high intensity aggression and motor activity in both species. Flumazenil (10-30 mg/kg) and ZK 91296 (10 mg/kg), but not ZK 93426, produced significant increases in foraging and feeding behaviors in squirrel monkeys. The hyperphagic effects of ZK 91296 and flumazenil, that are typical of BZR agonists compounds, were not observed in rats. Similarly, the inverse agonist-like reductions in social interactions produced by ZK 93426 (3-10 mg/kg) were observed only in squirrel monkeys. The partial inverse agonist Ro 15-4513 reduced aggression in rats, but low doses (1 mg/kg) produced tremors or seizures in 80% of the monkeys tested. Decreases in aggressive and social behaviors are often interpreted to reflect "anxiogenic" drug properties, whereas increased feeding has been associated with "anxiolytic" actions. The concurrent emergence of these apparent opposites suggests independent actions on social and alimentary functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-459
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Agonistic behavior
  • Animal behavior
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Feeding
  • Motor activity
  • Social behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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