Exposure to traumatic stress is a requirement for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, because the majority of trauma-exposed persons do not develop PTSD, examination of the typical effects of a stressor will not identify the critical components of PTSD risk or pathogenesis. Rather, PTSD represents a specific phenotype associated with a failure to recover from the normal effects of trauma. Thus, research must focus on identifying pre- and posttraumatic risk factors that explain the development of the disorder and the failure to reinstate physiological homeostasis. In this review, we summarize what is known about the clinical and biological characteristics of PTSD and articulate some of the gaps in knowledge that can be addressed by basic neuroscience research. We emphasize how knowledge about individual differences related to genetic and epigenetic factors in behavioral and brain responses to stress offers the hope of a deeper understanding of PTSD.