Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Anatomy and Neurobiology

Research Advisor

Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.


John D. Boughter, Ph.D. Eldon E. Geisert, Ph.D. Kristin M. Hamre, Ph.D. Jeffery D. Steketee, Ph.D.


anxiety, complex traits, expression genetics, QTL, stress


Genetic diversity generates variation at multiple phenotypic levels, ranging from the most basic molecular to higher-order cognitive and behavioral traits. The far-reaching impact that genes have on higher traits is apparent in several neuropsychiatric conditions such as stress and anxiety disorders. Like most, if not all, neural phenotypes, stress, anxiety, and other emotion-related traits are extremely complex and are defined by the interplay of multiple genetic, environmental, experiential, and epigenetic factors.

The work presented in this dissertation is a multi-scalar, integrative analysis of the molecular and neuroanatomic substrates that underlie emotion-related behavior. The amygdala is a principle component of the limbic system that controls emotionality. Using BXD recombinant inbred (RI) mice as model organisms, the anatomy and cellular architecture of the amygdala—specifically, the basolateral amygdala (BLA)—was examined to assess the level of structural variation in this brain region. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis was done to identify genetic loci that modulate the neuroanatomical traits of the BLA. The BXD RI mice were also tested using a variety of behavioral assays, and this showed a significant association between the BLA size and emotion-related behavior. The effect of chronic stress on subsequent behavior and endocrine-response was also examined in several genetically diverse inbred mice.

Finally, to explore the molecular mediators of stress and anxiety, microarrays were used to assay gene expression in three key corticolimbic brain regions—the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. Several large transcriptome data sets were also analyzed. These expression data sets brought focus on an interval on mouse distal chromosome 1 that modulates diverse neural and behavioral traits, and also controls the expression of a plethora of genes. This QTL rich region on mouse distal chromosome 1 (Qrr1) provides insights into how the information in the DNA sequence is conveyed by networks of co-regulated genes that may in turn modulate networks of inter-related phenotypes.