This study aimed to develop and characterize a novel (standard) open field test adapted for larval zebrafish. We also developed and characterized a variant of the same assay consisting of a colour-enriched open field; this was used to assess the impact of environmental complexity on patterns of exploratory behaviours as well to determine natural colour preference/avoidance. We report the following main findings: (1) zebrafish larvae display characteristic patterns of exploratory behaviours in the standard open field, such as thigmotaxis/centre avoidance; (2) environmental complexity (i.e. presence of colours) differentially affects patterns of exploratory behaviours and greatly attenuates natural zone preference; (3) larvae displayed the ability to discriminate colours. As reported previously in adult zebrafish, larvae showed avoidance towards blue and black; however, in contrast to the reported adult behaviour, larvae displayed avoidance towards red. Avoidance towards yellow and preference for green and orange are shown for the first time, (4) compared to standard open field tests, exposure to the colour-enriched open field resulted in an enhanced expression of anxiety-like behaviours. To conclude, we not only developed and adapted a traditional rodent behavioural assay that serves as a gold standard in preclinical drug screening, but we also provide a version of the same test that affords the possibility to investigate the impact of environmental stress on behaviour in larval zebrafish while representing the first test for assessment of natural colour preference/avoidance in larval zebrafish. In the future, these assays will improve preclinical drug screening methodologies towards the goal to uncover novel drugs. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: insert SI title.
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