The Three-Spined Stickleback as a Model for Behavioural Neuroscience

PLoS One. 2019 Mar 26;14(3):e0213320. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213320. eCollection 2019.


The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is a small teleost fish that is ubiquitous across the Northern Hemisphere. Among the behaviours that have been characterised in this species is ritualized courtship, aggressiveness and parental behaviour. Whereas three-spined sticklebacks have been used for ecological, evolutionary, parasitological and toxicological research, its complex behavioural repertoire and experimental advantages have not been exploited for basic neuroscience research. The aim of the present study is to describe some innate behaviours of laboratory bred three-spined sticklebacks by using a battery of tests that have been developed and validated to model some aspects of human psychiatric disorders in zebrafish. We recorded mirror induced aggression, novel object boldness, shoaling, and anxiety-like behaviour using both the novel tank diving and the black-white preference tests. We show that behaviour of three-spined sticklebacks in these standard tests is remarkably similar to that of zebrafish and other species and can be altered by fluoxetine and buspirone. These findings highlight the potential of using three-spined sticklebacks for cross-species and translational studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Breeding
  • Ecology*
  • Neurosciences*
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*

Grant support

This research received funding by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research under grant agreement no NC/R001049/1. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.