Nov. 21, 2003 BOSTON, Mass. (11-20-03) -– With the recent revelations about steroid use in Major League Baseball and the bust last week of several Oakland Raiders players for drug abuse, Northeastern University psychology professor Richard Melloni, who studies the link between steroid use and aggression, has recently found evidence that use of anabolic steroids may have long-term effects on behavior and aggression levels well after they stop abusing these performance enhancing drugs.
With funding from the NIH (recently extended through 2008), Melloni and doctoral student Jill Grimes have been studying how steroids used during adolescence may permanently alter the brain's ability to produce serotonin. In their experiments, adolescent Syrian hamsters - given their similar brain circuitry to human adolescents – were administered doses of anabolic steroids and then measured for aggressiveness over certain periods of time.
The researchers initially hypothesized that steroid use during adolescence might permanently alter the brain's chemistry and a person's tendency toward aggression long after use has stopped. Their most recent findings, published this week in Hormones and Behavior, enabled them to confirm this hypothesis and conclude that there is indeed a lengthy price – namely long-term aggression – to pay for drug abuse even after the ingestion of steroids ceases.
"We know testosterone or steroids affect the development of serotonin nerve cells, which, in turn, decreases serotonin availability in the brain," Melloni says. "The serotonin neural system is still developing during adolescence and the use of anabolic steroids during this critical period appears to have immediate and longer-term neural and behavioral consequences. What we know at this point is that aggressiveness doesn't simply cease after the ingestion of steroids does."
Based on this research, Melloni also believes that athletes who abuse steroids may also be inclined toward aggressive behavior long after their drug abuse – and musculature – have waned.
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