Locomotion in larval zebrafish: Influence of time of day, lighting and ethanol

Neurotoxicology. 2009 Jan;30(1):52-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2008.09.011. Epub 2008 Oct 5.


The increasing use of zebrafish (Danio rerio) in developmental research highlights the need for a detailed understanding of their behavior. We studied the locomotion of individual zebrafish larva (6 days post-fertilization) in 96-well microtiter plates. Movement was recorded using a video-tracking system. Time of day results indicated locomotion, tested in darkness (infrared), decreased gradually from early morning to a stable level between 13:00 and 15:30 h. All further studies were conducted in early-to-late afternoon and lasted approximately 1 h. Each study also began with a period of darkness to minimize any unintended stimulation caused by transferring the plates to the recording platform. Locomotion in darkness increased initially to a maximum at 4 min, then decreased steadily to a low level by 20 min. Locomotion during light was initially low and then gradually increased to a stable level after 20 min. When 10-min periods of light and dark were alternated, activity was low in light and high in dark; curiously, activity during alternating dark periods was markedly higher than originally obtained during either extended dark or light. Further experiments explored the variables influencing this alternating pattern of activity. Varying the duration of the initial dark period (10-20 min) did not affect subsequent activity in either light or dark. The activity increase on return to dark was, however, greater following 15 min than 5 min of light. Acute ethanol increased activity at 1 and 2% and severely decreased activity at 4%. One-percent ethanol retarded the transition in activity from dark to light, and the habituation of activity in dark, while 2% ethanol increased activity regardless of lighting condition. Collectively, these results show that locomotion in larval zebrafish can be reliably measured in a 96-well microtiter plate format, and is sensitive to time of day, lighting conditions, and ethanol.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Larva / physiology
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photoperiod
  • Zebrafish / physiology*


  • Ethanol