The genetics of behavior

The Jackson Laboratory

It's well recognized that our genes serve as the starting point for our development and health through life. But they don't determine our fate. What we encounter along the way (our environment) and what we do (our behavior) have profound effects on us as well. But what underlies behavior itself?

Assistant Professor Elissa Chesler, Ph.D., is working to find out. The rapid progress in research technologies and capabilities, such as whole-genome sequencing and large-scale data analysis, provides an unprecedented opportunity to identify the genes associated with behaviors and neurological disorders. In a recent review article in Neurotherapeutics, Chesler provides a detailed overview of how research in the field, including her own, is benefiting from the recent advances.

The same biological mechanism may underlie disorders that frequently occur together, while at the same time different mechanisms may give rise to similar behaviors, so challenges still abound. Newly developed mouse models are proving to be vital tools in the research process. Researchers are able to control their genetics with far more precision, in turn making behavior research more accurate and effective.

The genes identified through mouse model research provide vital insight into human behavior genetics, including the discovery of genes not previously identified as important to human neurobehavioral research. The knowledge gained is vital to refining mental illness diagnostic categories and improving treatment of neurological and psychiatric disease.


Bubier JA, Chesler EJ 2012. Accelerating Discovery for Complex Neurological and Behavioral Disorders Through Systems Genetics and Integrative Genomics in the Laboratory Mouse. Neurotherapeutics. 9(2): 338–348.