Anxiolytic effects of nicotine have been documented in studies with rodents and humans. Understanding the neural basis of nicotine-induced anxiolysis can help both with developing better aids for smoking cessation as well as with the potential development of novel nicotinic ligands for treating anxiety. Complementary non-mammalian models may be useful for determining the molecular bases of nicotine effects on neurobehavioral function. The current project examined whether a zebrafish model of anxiety would be sensitive to nicotine. When zebrafish are placed in a novel environment, they dive to the bottom of the tank. In the wild, diving could help to escape predation. We tested the anxiolytic effect of nicotine on the novelty-elicited diving response and subsequent habituation. Zebrafish placed in a novel tank spent the majority of time at the bottom third of the tank during the first minute of a 5-min session and then show a gradual decrease in time spent at the tank bottom. Nicotine treatment at 100 mg/l for 3 min by immersion before testing caused a significant decrease in diving throughout the session, while 50 mg/l was effective during the first minute when the greatest bottom dwelling was seen in controls. Nicotine effects were reversed by the nicotinic antagonist mecamylamine given together with nicotine, but not when administered shortly before the test session after prior nicotine dosing. This implies that the effect of nicotine on diving was due to net stimulation at nicotinic receptors, an effect that is blocked by mecamylamine; and that once invoked, this effect is no longer dependent on continuing activation of nicotinic receptors. The effect of nicotine on diving did not seem to be the result of a general disorientation of the fish. The 100 mg/ml nicotine dose was shown in our earlier study to significantly improve spatial-discrimination learning in zebrafish. Nicotine-induced anxiolytic effects can be modeled in the zebrafish. This preparation will help in the investigation of the molecular bases of this effect.