A continuously increasing body of knowledge shows that the brain is an extremely complex neural network and single neurons possess their own complicated interactive signaling pathways. Such complexity of the nervous system makes it increasingly difficult to investigate the functions of specific neural components such as genes, proteins, transcription factors, neurons and nuclei in the brain. Technically, it has been even more of a significant challenge to identify the molecular and cellular adaptations that are both sufficient and necessary to underlie behavioral functions in health and disease states. Defining such neural adaptations is a critical step to identify the potential therapeutic targets within the complex neural network that are beneficial to treat psychiatric disorders. Recently, the new development and extensive application of in vivo viral-mediated gene transfer (virogenetics) and optical manipulation of specific neurons or selective neural circuits in freely-moving animals (optogenetics) make it feasible, through loss- and gain-of-function approaches, to reliably define sufficient and necessary neuroadaptations in the behavioral models of psychiatric disorders, including drug addiction, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. In this article, we focus on recent studies that successfully employ these advanced virogenetic and optogenetic techniques as a powerful tool to identify potential targets in the brain, and to provide highly useful information in the development of novel therapeutic strategies for psychiatric disorders. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Anxiety and Depression'.
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