Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark (FBL) is published by IMR Press from Volume 26 Issue 5 (2021). Previous articles were published by another publisher on a subscription basis, and they are hosted by IMR Press on imrpress.com as a courtesy and upon agreement with Frontiers in Bioscience.
Academic Editor: Michael Taffe
Self-injurious behavior (SIB) is a serious behavioral condition that afflicts millions of individuals in the United States alone. The underlying factors contributing to the development of self-injury in people are poorly understood, and existing treatment strategies for this condition are limited. A low but persistent percentage of socially reared individually housed rhesus monkeys also spontaneously develop SIB. Data obtained from colony records suggest that the risk of developing SIB in socially reared rhesus monkeys is heightened by adverse early experience and subsequent stress exposure. The present review summarizes the physiological and neurochemical findings obtained in this nonhuman primate model of SIB, focusing on monoamine neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and neuroendocrine systems. The results indicate that monkeys with SIB exhibit long-lasting disturbances in central and peripheral opioid and stress response systems, which lead to increased levels of anxiety. Based on these findings, we propose an integrated developmental-neurochemical hypothesis in which SIB arises from adverse life events in a subset of vulnerable monkeys, is maintained by a persisting dysregulation of several neurochemical and physiological systems, and functions to periodically reduce anxiety when the levels of anxiety become excessive. Implications of this hypothesis for understanding self-injury in patients with borderline personality disorder and members of the general population are discussed.