Potential of zebrafish as a model for exploring the role of the amygdala in emotional memory and motivational behavior

J Neurosci Res. 2016 Jun;94(6):445-62. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23712. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Emotion is a key aspect of behavior, enabling humans and animals to assign either positive or negative values to sensory inputs and thereby to make appropriate decisions. Classical experiments in mammalian models, mainly in primates and rodents, have shown that the amygdala is essential for appetitive and aversive associative processing and that dysfunction of this brain region leads to various psychiatric conditions, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, autism, and posttraumatic stress disorder. In the past 2 decades, the zebrafish (Danio rerio; Cyprinidae) has emerged as a versatile, reliable vertebrate model organism for the in vivo study of development, gene function, and numerous aspects of human pathologies. Small size, high fecundity, rapid external development, transparency, genetic tractability, and high genetic and physiologic homology with humans are among the factors that have contributed to the success with this small fish in different biomedical research areas. Recent findings indicate that, despite the anatomical differences in the brain structure of teleosts and tetrapods, fish possess a structure homologous to the mammalian amygdala, a hypothesis that is supported by the expression of molecular markers, analyses of neuronal projections in different brain areas, and behavioral studies. This Review summarizes this evidence and highlights a number of relevant bioassays in zebrafish to study emotional memory and motivational behavior.

Keywords: amygdaloid complex; appetitive conditioning; conditioned fear; fish; pallium; subpallium; teleost; vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Animal*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Zebrafish