The underlying bases of the considerable interindividual variability in pain-related traits are starting to be revealed. Although the relative importance of genes versus experience in human pain perception remains unclear, rodent populations display large and heritable differences in both nociceptive and analgesic sensitivity. The identification and characterization of particularly divergent populations provides a powerful initial step in the genetic analysis of pain, because these models can be exploited to identify genes contributing to the behavior-level variability. Ultimately, DNA sequence differences representing the differential alleles at pain-relevant genes can be identified. Thus, by using a combination of "top-down" and "bottom-up" strategies, we are now able to genetically dissect even complex biological traits like pain. The present review summarizes the current progress toward these ends in both humans and rodents.