Zebrafish Models of Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Past, Present, and Future

Front Mol Neurosci. 2018 Aug 29;11:294. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2018.00294. eCollection 2018.


Zebrafish are increasingly being utilized as a model system to investigate the function of the growing list of risk genes associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. This is due in large part to the unique features of zebrafish that make them an optimal system for this purpose, including rapid, external development of transparent embryos, which enable the direct visualization of the developing nervous system during early stages, large progenies, which provide considerable tractability for performing high-throughput pharmacological screens to identify small molecule suppressors of simple behavioral phenotypes, and ease of genetic manipulation, which has been greatly facilitated by the advent of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technologies. This review article focuses on studies that have harnessed these advantages of the zebrafish system for the functional analysis of genes that are strongly associated with the following neurodevelopmental disorders: autism spectrum disorders (ASD), epilepsy, intellectual disability (ID) and schizophrenia. We focus primarily on studies describing early morphological and behavioral phenotypes during embryonic and larval stages resulting from loss of risk gene function. We highlight insights into basic mechanisms of risk gene function gained from these studies as well as limitations of studies to date. Finally, we discuss advances in in vivo neural circuit imaging in zebrafish, which promise to transform research using the zebrafish model by illuminating novel circuit-level mechanisms with relevance to neurodevelopmental disorders.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; epilepsy; genetics; model system; neural circuits; neurodevelopmental disorders; schizophrenia; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Review