Experimental gene interaction studies with SERT mutant mice as models for human polygenic and epistatic traits and disorders

Genes Brain Behav. 2003 Dec;2(6):350-64. doi: 10.1046/j.1601-1848.2003.00049.x.


Current evidence indicates that virtually all neuropsychiatric disorders, like many other common medical disorders, are genetically complex, with combined influences from multiple interacting genes, as well as from the environment. However, additive or epistatic gene interactions have proved quite difficult to detect and evaluate in human studies. Mouse phenotypes, including behaviors and drug responses, can provide relevant models for human disorders. Studies of gene-gene interactions in mice could thus help efforts to understand the molecular genetic bases of complex human disorders. The serotonin transporter (SERT, 5-HTT, SLC6A4) provides a relevant model for studying such interactions for several reasons: human variants in SERT have been associated with several neuropsychiatric and other medical disorders and quantitative traits; SERT blockers are effective treatments for a number of neuropsychiatric disorders; there is a good initial understanding of the phenotypic features of heterozygous and homozygous SERT knockout mice; and there is an expanding understanding of the interactions between variations in SERT expression and variations in the expression of a number of other genes of interest for neuropsychiatry and neuropharmacology. This paper provides examples of experimentally-obtained interactions between quantitative variations in SERT gene expression and variations in the expression of five other mouse genes: DAT, NET, MAOA, 5-HT(1B) and BDNF. In humans, all six of these genes possess polymorphisms that have been independently investigated as candidates for neuropsychiatric and other disorders in a total of > 500 reports. In the experimental studies in mice reviewed here, gene-gene interactions resulted in either synergistic, antagonistic (including 'rescue' or 'complementation') or more complex, quantitative alterations. These were identified in comparisons of the behavioral, physiological and neurochemical phenotypes of wildtype mice vs. mice with single allele or single gene targeted disruptions and mice with partial or complete disruptions of multiple genes. Several of the descriptive phenotypes could be best understood on the basis of intermediate, quantitative alterations such as brain serotonin differences. We discuss the ways in which these interactions could provide models for studies of gene-gene interactions in complex human neuropsychiatric and other disorders to which SERT may contribute, including developmental disorders, obesity, polysubstance abuse and others.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Environment*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Mental Disorders / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Norepinephrine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B / genetics
  • Serotonin / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Symporters / genetics


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Norepinephrine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B
  • SLC6A2 protein, human
  • SLC6A3 protein, human
  • SLC6A4 protein, human
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Slc6a2 protein, mouse
  • Slc6a3 protein, mouse
  • Slc6a4 protein, mouse
  • Symporters
  • Serotonin
  • Monoamine Oxidase