Autopsy revealed that the outward aggressiveness correlated with inner changes in the brain. When the drugged hamsters were hostile hosts, a part of their brains called the anterior hypothalamus pumped out more of a neurotransmitter called vasopressin. By three weeks of withdrawal, vasopressin levels subsided in parallel with the aggressive behavior. The anterior hypothalamus regulates aggression and social behavior. Thus, vasopressin already known to stimulate that area appears to fuel the engine of aggression. And, says Melloni, "Steroids step on the gas for agression."
Thus, the neuroscientists conclude that the aggressiveness triggered by anabolic steroids, although reversible, may last long enough to create serious behavioral problems for adults. Because this part of the rodent and human nervous systems are similar, researchers generalize their findings to humans. As a result, Melloni and his colleagues speculate that anabolic steroids can dramatically shorten teenage fuses (not known for length under the best of circumstances) and make young people "pop off" for years, a danger to themselves and to others. Melloni and others researchers also are concerned that drug use during a critical window in brain development can change their wiring for good. He says, "Because the developing brain is more adaptable and pliable, steroids could change the trajectory if administered during development." His lab is releasing other new findings, as yet unpublished, that the serotonin system implicated in depression may never recover.
"If you hit the right areas of the brain at the right time, you make permanent changes," Melloni concludes from the converging evidence.