Deciphering the genetic code that determines how the vertebrate nervous system assembles into neural circuits that ultimately control behavior is a fascinating and challenging question in modern neurobiology. Because of the complexity of this problem, successful strategies require a simple yet focused experimental approach without limiting the scope of the discovery. Unbiased, large-scale forward genetic screens in invertebrate organisms have yielded great insight into the genetic regulation of neural circuit assembly and function. For many reasons, this highly successful approach has been difficult to recapitulate in the behavioral neuroscience field's classic vertebrate model organisms-rodents. Here, we discuss how larval zebrafish provide a promising model system to which we can apply the design of invertebrate behavior-based screens to reveal the genetic mechanisms critical for neural circuit assembly and function in vertebrates.
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