It has long been established that the development of psychiatric illness results from a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Postmortem and genetic linkage studies have identified a number of promising candidate genes which have been reinforced by replication and functional studies. However, the fact that concordance rates for monozygotic twins rarely approach 100% highlights the involvement of environmental factors. Whilst epidemiological studies of psychiatric cohorts have demonstrated potential risk factors, such studies are clearly limited and in many cases the potential mechanism linking a given risk factor with pathogenesis remains unclear. A very powerful method of elucidating the mechanisms underlying gene-environment interactions is the use of appropriate animal models of psychiatric pathology. Whilst animals cannot be used to map the entire complexity of diseases such as schizophrenia, dissecting the symptom profile into more simply encapsulated traits or endophenotypes has proved to be a successful approach. Such endophenotypes provide a measurable link between aetiological factors and phenotypic outcome. Given the potential for the careful control and modification of an experimental animal’s environment, the combination of studies of candidate genes with investigations of environmental factors is an effective heuristic tool, allowing examination of behavioural endophenotypes in conjunction with cellular and molecular outcomes. This review will consider the extant genetic, molecular, pharmacological and lesion-based models of psychiatric disorders, and the relevant methods of environmental manipulation appearing in the literature. We will discuss studies where such models have been combined, and the potential for future experimentation in this area.
Keywords: epigenetic, NMDA receptor 1 subunit, catechol-O-methyltransferase, endophenotype, environmental manipulation, pre-pulse inhibition
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