Development of an opioid self-administration assay to study drug seeking in zebrafish

Behav Brain Res. 2017 Sep 29;335:158-166. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.08.001. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


The zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become an excellent tool to study mental health disorders, due to its physiological and genetic similarity to humans, ease of genetic manipulation, and feasibility of small molecule screening. Zebrafish have been shown to exhibit characteristics of addiction to drugs of abuse in non-contingent assays, including conditioned place preference, but contingent assays have been limited to a single assay for alcohol consumption. Using inexpensive electronic, mechanical, and optical components, we developed an automated opioid self-administration assay for zebrafish, enabling us to measure drug seeking and gain insight into the underlying biological pathways. Zebrafish trained in the assay for five days exhibited robust self-administration, which was dependent on the function of the μ-opioid receptor. In addition, a progressive ratio protocol was used to test conditioned animals for motivation. Furthermore, conditioned fish continued to seek the drug despite an adverse consequence and showed signs of stress and anxiety upon withdrawal of the drug. Finally, we validated our assay by confirming that self-administration in zebrafish is dependent on several of the same molecular pathways as in other animal models. Given the ease and throughput of this assay, it will enable identification of important biological pathways regulating drug seeking and could lead to the development of new therapeutic molecules to treat addiction.

Keywords: Addiction; Animal model; Opioid; Self-administration; Zebrafish.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / etiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Hydrocodone / administration & dosage
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism
  • Self Administration
  • Zebrafish*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Hydrocodone

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