Early life genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors shaping emotionality in rodents

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2005;29(8):1335-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.04.012. Epub 2005 Aug 10.


Childhood trauma is known to increase risk for emotional disorders and addiction. However, little is currently understood about the neurodevelopmental basis of these effects, or how genetic and epigenetic factors interact with the environment to shape the systems subserving emotionality. In this review, we discuss the use of rodent models of early life emotional experience to study these issues in the laboratory and present some of our pertinent findings. In rats, postnatal maternal separation can produce lasting increases in emotional behavior and stressor-reactivity, together with alterations in various brain neurotransmitter systems implicated in emotionality, including corticotropin-releasing factor, serotonin, norepinephrine, and glutamate. Genetic differences between inbred mouse strains have been exploited to further study how maternal behavior affects emotional development using techniques such as cross-fostering and generation of inter-strain hybrids. Together with our own recent data, the findings of these studies demonstrate the pervasive influence of maternal and social environments during sensitive developmental periods and reveal how genetic factors determine how these early life experiences can shape brain and behavior throughout life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Behavioral Symptoms / genetics
  • Behavioral Symptoms / physiopathology
  • Behavioral Symptoms / psychology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Rodentia / physiology