© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved. In recent years, numerous studies of gene regulation mechanisms have emerged in neuroscience. Epigenetic modifications, described as heritable but reversible changes, include DNA methylation, DNA hydroxymethylation, histone modifications and noncoding RNAs. The pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may be ascribed to a complex gene-environment interaction (G × E) model, linking the genome, environmental factors and epigenetic marks. Both the high complexity and the high heritability of bipolar disorder make it a compelling candidate for neurobiological analyses beyond DNA sequencing. Questions that are being raised in this review are the precise phenotype of the disorder in question, and also the trait versus state debate and how these concepts are being implemented in a variety of study designs.