New genetic models that target the serotonin system show that transient alterations in serotonin homeostasis cause permanent changes to adult behaviour and modify the fine wiring of brain connections. These findings have revived a long-standing interest in the developmental role of serotonin. Molecular genetic approaches are now showing us that different serotonin receptors, acting at different developmental stages, modulate different developmental processes such as neurogenesis, apoptosis, axon branching and dendritogenesis. Our understanding of the specification of the serotonergic phenotype is improving. In addition, studies have revealed that serotonergic traits are dissociable, as there are populations of neurons that contain serotonin but do not synthesize it.