Induction of Short-Term Sensitization by an Aversive Chemical Stimulus in Zebrafish Larvae

eNeuro. 2020 Dec 4;7(6):ENEURO.0336-19.2020. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0336-19.2020. Print 2020 Nov/Dec.


Larval zebrafish possess a number of molecular and genetic advantages for rigorous biological analyses of learning and memory. These advantages have motivated the search for novel forms of memory in these animals that can be exploited for understanding the cellular and molecular bases of vertebrate memory formation and consolidation. Here, we report a new form of behavioral sensitization in zebrafish larvae that is elicited by an aversive chemical stimulus [allyl isothiocyanate (AITC)] and that persists for ≥30 min. This form of sensitization is expressed as enhanced locomotion and thigmotaxis, as well as elevated heart rate. To characterize the neural basis of this nonassociative memory, we used transgenic zebrafish expressing the fluorescent calcium indicator GCaMP6 (Chen et al., 2013); because of the transparency of larval zebrafish, we could optically monitor neural activity in the brain of intact transgenic zebrafish before and after the induction of sensitization. We found a distinct brain area, previously linked to locomotion, that exhibited persistently enhanced neural activity following washout of AITC; this enhanced neural activity correlated with the behavioral sensitization. These results establish a novel form of memory in larval zebrafish and begin to unravel the neural basis of this memory.

Keywords: behavioral plasticity; learning; memory; sensitization; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Larva
  • Locomotion
  • Memory*
  • Zebrafish*