Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) is a potent modulator of the physiology and behavior involved in generating appropriate responses to environmental cues such as danger or threat. Furthermore, genetic variation in 5-HT subsystem genes can impact upon several dimensions of emotional behavior including neuroticism and psychopathology, but especially anxiety traits. Recently, functional neuroimaging has provided a dramatic illustration of how a promoter polymorphism in the human 5-HT transporter (5-HTT) gene, which has been weakly related to these behaviors, is strongly related to the engagement of neural systems, namely the amygdala, subserving emotional processes. In this commentary, we discuss how functional neuroimaging can be used to characterize the effects of polymorphisms in 5-HT subsystem genes on the response of neural circuits underlying the generation and regulation of mood and temperament as well as susceptibility to affective illness. We argue that in time, such knowledge will allow us to not only transcend phenomenological diagnosis and represent mechanisms of disease, but also identify at-risk individuals and biological pathways for the development of new treatments.