Psychiatric endophenotypes and the development of valid animal models


  • T. D. Gould,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, HHS, Bethesda, MD, USA, and
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  • I. I. Gottesman

    1. Departments of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota Medical School, and Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
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T. D. Gould, Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology, BLDG 35, Room 1C-912, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892-3711, USA. E-mail:


Endophenotypes are quantifiable components in the genes-to-behaviors pathways, distinct from psychiatric symptoms, which make genetic and biological studies of etiologies for disease categories more manageable. The endophenotype concept has emerged as a strategic tool in neuropsychiatric research. This emergence is due to many factors, including the modest reproducibility of results from studies directed toward etiologies and appreciation for the complex relationships between genes and behavior. Disease heterogeneity is often guaranteed, rather than simplified, through the current diagnostic system; inherent benefits of endophenotypes include more specific disease concepts and process definitions. Endophenotypes can be neurophysiological, biochemical, endocrine, neuroanatomical, cognitive or neuropsychological. Heritability and stability (state independence) represent key components of any useful endophenotype. Importantly, they characterize an approach that reduces the complexity of symptoms and multifaceted behaviors, resulting in units of analysis that are more amenable to being modeled in animals. We discuss the benefits of more direct interpretation of clinical endophenotypes by basic behavioral scientists. With the advent of important findings regarding the genes that predispose to psychiatric illness, we are at an important crossroads where, without anthropomorphizing, animal models may provide homologous components of psychiatric illness, rather than simply equating to similar (loosely analogized) behaviors, validators of the efficacy of current medications or models of symptoms. We conclude that there exists a need for increased collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists, the result of which should be to improve diagnosis, classification and treatment on one end and to increase the construct relevance of model organisms on the other.