How does the environment, particularly the social environment, influence brain and behavior and what are the underlying physiologic, molecular, and genetic mechanisms? Adaptations of brain and behavior to changes in the social or physical environment are common in the animal world, either as short-term (i.e., modulatory) or as long-term modifications (e.g., via gene expression changes) in behavioral or physiologic properties. The study of the mechanisms and constraints underlying these dynamic changes requires model systems that offer plastic phenotypes as well as a sufficient level of quantifiable behavioral complexity while being accessible at the physiological and molecular level. In this article, I explore how the new field of functional genomics can contribute to an understanding of the complex relationship between genome and environment that results in highly plastic phenotypes. This approach will lead to the discovery of genes under environmental control and provide the basis for the study of the interrelationship between an individual's gene expression profile and its social phenotype in a given environmental context.
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