This article describes a suite of computational approaches suitable for deriving various quantitative phenotypes from structural magnetic resonance (MR) images obtained in rodents and used subsequently in genetic studies of complex traits. We begin by introducing the basic principles of genetic studies of complex traits in experimental models. We then illustrate the use of MR-based computational anatomy in vivo and ex vivo, and in combination with histology. This work was carried out in two inbred strains of rats, namely spontaneously hypertensive rats and Brown Norway rats; these are parental strains of the only existing panel of recombinant inbred strains of rats. The rats were scanned in vivo at two time points (at 8 and 12 weeks of age) and ex vivo (at 12 weeks of age). We describe between-strain differences and across-time changes in brain and kidney volumes, as well as regional variations in brain structure using surface- and deformation-based approaches. We conclude by discussing the power of the population-based computational analysis of MR images, and their fusion with histology, in studies of complex traits. Hum Brain Mapp, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.