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Genetics and Genomics of Social Behavior Workshop


Bethesda, Maryland

Sponsored by:
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse co-hosted a workshop for participants to (1) become familiar with how and which model organisms are being used currently in the field of social behavior and (2) identify opportunities that will benefit public health by supporting high-impact basic research exploring the genetics of social behavior. Participating investigators described their social behavioral research using model systems and discussed the genetic resources currently available. Topics included the merits of studying a single model system with a unique phenotype versus comparing and evaluating similar behaviors across species. Some investigators take advantage of natural variation where behaviors and genetics can be examined at the individual level, within populations, and between populations. In addition, participants discussed behavioral assays currently in use for various model organisms and the merits of encouraging standardization for best practices versus promoting novel measures to explore subtle yet informative differences. Comparing and contrasting model genetic systems with model behavioral systems provided a useful framework to discuss critical issues, including (1) how to define social behaviors in animal models that are of interest to understanding human health and (2) how to pursue gene discovery and functional analyses in the context of those behaviors. Additional discussion centered on improving access to resources, including biological and data repositories; expanding opportunities for collaboration; and training scientists in this area of research. Finally, participants agreed that examining the outcomes of Gene x Environment (GxE) and Gene x Environment x Development (GxExD) interactions, can provide a more complete picture of the genetic and epigenetic landscape that impacts social behavior.

This workshop represents the first step in identifying current gaps in supported research as well as new opportunities that will increase our basic understanding of the genetic underpinnings of social behavior. In cooperation with multiple Institutes and Centers at NIH, NIMH and NIDA will continue to advance this important area of research and determine its association with human health and disease. For more information, please contact Andrea Beckel-Mitchener at amitchen@mail.nih.gov.