Absence of rapid eye movements during sleep in adult zebrafish

Behav Brain Res. 2015 Sep 15;291:189-194. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.05.017. Epub 2015 May 20.


Sleep is not a uniform phenomenon, but is organized in alternating, fundamentally different states, rapid eye movement sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) have recently emerged as an excellent model for sleep research. Zebrafish are well characterized in terms of development, neurobiology and genetics. Moreover, there are many experimental tools not easily applied in mammalian models that can be readily applied to zebrafish, making them a valuable additional animal model for sleep research. Sleep in zebrafish is defined behaviorally and exhibits the hallmarks of mammalian sleep (e.g. sleep homeostasis and pressure). To our knowledge no attempts have been made to discern if sleep in zebrafish entails alternations of REM-NREM sleep cycles which are critical for further development of the model. In the current experiment we quantify two key REM sleep components, rapid eye movements and respiratory rates, across sleep-wake cycles. We find no sleep-related rapid eye movements. During sleep respiratory rates, however, are reduced and become less regular, further establishing that the behavioral definition used truly captures a change in the fish's physiology. We thus fail to find evidence for REM-NREM sleep cycles in zebrafish but demonstrate a physiological change that occurs concomitantly with the previously defined behavioral state of sleep. We do not rule out that other phasic REM components (e.g. atonia, cardiac arrhythmias, myoclonic twitches or desynchronized EEG) are coherently expressed during sleep but we conclude that adult zebrafish do not have REM-sleep-related rapid eye movements.

Keywords: Activity detection; Computer vision; Motion tracking; REM; Sleep; Zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Darkness
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Eye Movements*
  • Photoperiod
  • Respiration*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Video Recording
  • Wakefulness / physiology
  • Zebrafish / physiology*