Although expression of the Fos family of transcription factors is induced by environmental stimuli that trigger adaptive neuronal response, evidence that Fos family members mediate these responses is lacking. To address this issue, mice were generated with an inactivating mutation in the fosB gene. fosB mutant mice are profoundly deficient in their ability to nurture young animals but are normal with respect to other cognitive and sensory functions. The nurturing defect is likely due to the absence of FosB in the preoptic area, a region of the hypothalamus that is critical for nurturing. These observations suggest that a transcription factor controls a complex behavior by regulating a specific neuronal circuit and indicate that nurturing in mammals has a genetic component.