We have developed an automated, high-throughput behavioral screening method for detecting hearing defects in zebrafish. Our assay monitors a rapid escape reflex in response to a loud sound. With this approach, 36 adult zebrafish, restrained in visually isolated compartments, can be simultaneously assessed for responsiveness to near-field 400 Hz sinusoidal tone bursts. Automated, objective determinations of responses are achieved with a computer program that obtains images at precise times relative to the acoustic stimulus. Images taken with a CCD video camera before and after stimulus presentation are subtracted to reveal a response to the sound. Up to 108 fish can be screened per hour. Over 6500 fish were tested to validate the reliability of the assay. We found that 1% of these animals displayed hearing deficits. The phenotypes of non-responders were further assessed with radiological analysis for defects in the gross morphology of the auditory system. Nearly all of those showed abnormalities in conductive elements of the auditory system: the swim bladder or Weberian ossicles.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.