Hyper-aggressive hamsters

Mean little critters

Scientists ‘really surprised’ after gene-editing experiment unexpectedly turn hamsters into hyper-aggressive bullies

An image of a Syrian hamster looking at the camera.
An image of a Syrian hamster looking at the camera. 
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  • A team of neuroscientists was “really surprised” by the results of a gene-editing experiment on hamsters.
  • The team expected that the elimination of vasopressin activity would make the hamsters behave more peacefully.
  • Instead, the gene-edited hamsters displayed “high levels” of aggression.

“We were really surprised at the results,” said the study’s lead author, GSU professor H. Elliott Albers, in the university’s statement.

“We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication,” Albers continued. “But the opposite happened.”

The hamsters without the receptor displayed “high levels of aggression” towards hamsters of the same sex compared to their counterparts with the receptors intact, the study said.

“This suggests a startling conclusion,” Albers said, per the statement. “Even though we know that vasopressin increases social behaviors by acting within a number of brain regions, it is possible that the more global effects of the Avpr1a receptor are inhibitory.”

The “counterintuitive findings” show that the scientists “don’t understand this system as well as we thought we did,” Albers said.

Developing gene-edited hamsters was “not easy,” Albers went on. He added that a better understanding of the role of vasopressin in social behavior is vital to helping scientists identify new treatment strategies for psychiatric disorders in humans, ranging from autism to depression.

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