Experience-dependent development of visual sensitivity in larval zebrafish

Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 12;9(1):18931. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54958-6.


The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a popular vertebrate model for studying visual development, especially at the larval stage. For many vertebrates, post-natal visual experience is essential to fine-tune visual development, but it is unknown how experience shapes larval zebrafish vision. Zebrafish swim with a moving texture; in the wild, this innate optomotor response (OMR) stabilises larvae in moving water, but it can be exploited in the laboratory to assess zebrafish visual function. Here, we compared spatial-frequency tuning inferred from OMR between visually naïve and experienced larvae from 5 to 7 days post-fertilisation. We also examined development of synaptic connections between neurons by quantifying post-synaptic density 95 (PSD-95) in larval retinae. PSD-95 is closely associated with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, the neurotransmitter-receptor proteins underlying experience-dependent visual development. We found that rather than following an experience-independent genetic programme, developmental changes in visual spatial-frequency tuning at the larval stage required visual experience. Exposure to motion evoking OMR yielded no greater improvement than exposure to static form, suggesting that increased sensitivity as indexed by OMR was driven not by motor practice but by visual experience itself. PSD-95 density varied with visual sensitivity, suggesting that experience may have up-regulated clustering of PSD-95 for synaptic maturation in visual development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disks Large Homolog 4 Protein / genetics
  • Disks Large Homolog 4 Protein / metabolism
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / genetics
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism


  • Disks Large Homolog 4 Protein
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Zebrafish Proteins