Analysis of quantitative trait loci that influence animal behavior

J Neurobiol. 2003 Jan;54(1):46-77. doi: 10.1002/neu.10161.


Behavioral differences between inbred strains of mice and rats have a genetic basis that can now be dissected using quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis. Over the last 10 years, a large number of genetic loci that influence behavior have been mapped. In this article I review what that information has revealed about the genetic architecture of behavior. I show that most behaviors are influenced by QTL of small effect, each contributing to less than 10% of the variance of a behavioral trait. The small effect of each QTL on behavioral variation suggests that the mutational spectrum is different from that which results in Mendelian disorders. Regions of DNA should be appropriately prioritized to find the molecular variants, for instance by looking at sequences that control the level of gene expression rather than variants in coding regions. While the number of allelic loci that can contribute to a trait is large, this is not necessarily the case: the analysis of selected strains shows that a remarkably small number of QTL can explain the bulk of the genetic variation in behavior. I conclude by arguing that genetic mapping has more to offer than a starting point for positional cloning projects. With advances in multivariate analyses, mapping can also test hypotheses about the psychological processes that give rise to behavioral variation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Inbred Strains / genetics
  • Anxiety / genetics
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Chromosomes / physiology
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Genetic Carrier Screening / methods*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Behavioral* / methods
  • Genotype
  • Lod Score
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / physiology*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / genetics


  • Receptors, Corticotropin