The zebrafish subcortical social brain as a model for studying social behavior disorders

Dis Model Mech. 2019 Aug 6;12(8):dmm039446. doi: 10.1242/dmm.039446.


Social behaviors are essential for the survival and reproduction of social species. Many, if not most, neuropsychiatric disorders in humans are either associated with underlying social deficits or are accompanied by social dysfunctions. Traditionally, rodent models have been used to model these behavioral impairments. However, rodent assays are often difficult to scale up and adapt to high-throughput formats, which severely limits their use for systems-level science. In recent years, an increasing number of studies have used zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model system to study social behavior. These studies have demonstrated clear potential in overcoming some of the limitations of rodent models. In this Review, we explore the evolutionary conservation of a subcortical social brain between teleosts and mammals as the biological basis for using zebrafish to model human social behavior disorders, while summarizing relevant experimental tools and assays. We then discuss the recent advances gleaned from zebrafish social behavior assays, the applications of these assays to studying related disorders, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Keywords: Autism; Behavioral assay; Model organism; Neuropsychiatric disorders; Phylogenetic conservation; Social deficit.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Social Behavior Disorders / pathology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*