Optical trapping of otoliths drives vestibular behaviours in larval zebrafish

Nat Commun. 2017 Sep 20;8(1):630. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-00713-2.


The vestibular system, which detects gravity and motion, is crucial to survival, but the neural circuits processing vestibular information remain incompletely characterised. In part, this is because the movement needed to stimulate the vestibular system hampers traditional neuroscientific methods. Optical trapping uses focussed light to apply forces to targeted objects, typically ranging from nanometres to a few microns across. In principle, optical trapping of the otoliths (ear stones) could produce fictive vestibular stimuli in a stationary animal. Here we use optical trapping in vivo to manipulate 55-micron otoliths in larval zebrafish. Medial and lateral forces on the otoliths result in complementary corrective tail movements, and lateral forces on either otolith are sufficient to cause a rolling correction in both eyes. This confirms that optical trapping is sufficiently powerful and precise to move large objects in vivo, and sets the stage for the functional mapping of the resulting vestibular processing.The neural circuits of the vestibular system, which detects gravity and motion, remain incompletely characterised. Here the authors use an optical trap to manipulate otoliths (ear stones) in zebrafish larvae, and elicit corrective tail movements and eye rolling, thus establishing a method for mapping vestibular processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Eye
  • Larva
  • Optical Tweezers
  • Otolithic Membrane*
  • Tail
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth*
  • Zebrafish