Developmental exposure of zebrafish to vitamin D receptor acting drugs and environmental toxicants disrupts behavioral function

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2020 Sep-Oct:81:106902. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2020 May 27.


Vitamin D receptor (VDR) signaling is important for optimal neurobehavioral development. Disruption of VDR signaling by environmental toxicants during early development might contribute to the etiology of behavioral dysfunction. In the current set of studies, we examined ten compounds known to affect VDR function in vitro for neurobehavioral effects in vivo in zebrafish. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to concentrations of the compounds in their water during the first 5 days post-fertilization. On day 5, the embryos were tested in an alternating light-dark locomotor assay using a computerized video tracking system. We found that most of the compounds produced significant changes in locomotor behavior in exposed zebrafish larvae, although the direction of the effect (i.e., hypo- or hyperactivity) and the sensitivity of the effect to changes in illumination condition varied across the compounds. The nature of the behavioral effects generally corresponded to the effects these compounds have been shown to exert on VDR. These studies lay a foundation for further investigation to determine whether behavioral dysfunction persists into adulthood and if so which behavioral functions are affected. Zebrafish can be useful for screening compounds identified in high throughput in vitro assays to provide an initial test for how those compounds would affect construction and behavioral function of a complex nervous system, helping to bridge the gap between in vitro neurotoxicity assays and mammalian models for risk assessment in humans.

Keywords: Agonists; Antagonists; Behavioral toxicology; Neurodevelopment; Vitamin D receptor; Zebrafish, larvae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / drug effects
  • Hazardous Substances / pharmacology*
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism*
  • Reflex, Startle / drug effects
  • Zebrafish / physiology


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptors, Calcitriol