Assessing social engagement in heterogeneous groups of zebrafish: a new paradigm for autism-like behavioral responses

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 8;8(10):e75955. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075955. eCollection 2013.


Because of its highly developed social character, zebrafish is a promising model system for the study of the genetic and neurochemical basis of altered social engagement such as is common in autism and schizophrenia. The traditional shoaling paradigm investigates social cohesion in homogeneous groups of zebrafish. However, the social dynamics of mixed groups is gaining interest from a therapeutic point of view and thus warrants animal modeling. Furthermore, mutant zebrafish are not always available in large numbers. Therefore, we developed a new paradigm that allows exploring shoaling in heterogeneous groups. The effects of MK-801, a non-competitive antagonist of the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, on social cohesion were studied to evaluate the paradigm. The drug has previously been shown to mimic aspects of autism and schizophrenia. Our results show that a single MK-801-treated zebrafish reduced social cohesion of the entire shoal drastically. Preliminary observations suggest that the social dynamics of the shoal as a whole was altered.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Dizocilpine Maleate / pharmacology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*


  • Dizocilpine Maleate

Grant support

These authors have no support or funding to report.