Of lasers, mutants, and see-through brains: functional neuroanatomy in zebrafish

J Neurobiol. 2004 Apr;59(1):147-61. doi: 10.1002/neu.20000.


Behavioral functions are carried out by localized circuits in the brain. Although this modular principle is clearly established, the boundaries of modules, and sometimes even their existence, are still debated. Zebrafish might offer distinct advantages in localizing behaviors to discrete brain regions because of the ability to visualize, record from, and lesion precisely identified populations of neurons in the brain. In addition, genetic screens in zebrafish enable the isolation of mutations that disrupt neural pathways and/or behaviors, as an alternative lesioning technique with complementary strengths to laser ablations. For example, the Mauthner cell, a large identified neuron in the hindbrain, has been postulated to be both necessary and sufficient for the execution of escapes. We discuss in this review how experiments, using laser ablations, calcium imaging, and mutants have eroded this notion. Even in a simple behavior, such as escape, many parallel pathways appear to be involved with no single one being absolutely necessary. Lesion studies and the analysis of behavioral mutants are now also beginning to elucidate the functional architecture of the zebrafish visual system. Although still in an embryonic stage, the neuroanatomy of behaviors in zebrafish has a bright future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Escape Reaction / physiology
  • Genetic Techniques
  • Lasers
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neuroanatomy / methods*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Zebrafish