Hypothalamic Dopamine Neurons Control Sensorimotor Behavior by Modulating Brainstem Premotor Nuclei in Zebrafish

Curr Biol. 2020 Dec 7;30(23):4606-4618.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.09.002. Epub 2020 Oct 1.


Dopamine (DA)-producing neurons are critically involved in the production of motor behaviors in multiple circuits that are conserved from basal vertebrates to mammals. Although there is increasing evidence that DA neurons in the hypothalamus play a locomotor role, their precise contributions to behavior and the circuit mechanisms by which they are achieved remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that tyrosine-hydroxylase-2-expressing (th2+) DA neurons in the zebrafish hypothalamus fire phasic bursts of activity to acutely promote swimming and modulate audiomotor behaviors on fast timescales. Their anatomy and physiology reveal two distinct functional DA modules within the hypothalamus. The first comprises an interconnected set of cerebrospinal-fluid-contacting DA nuclei surrounding the 3rd ventricle, which lack distal projections outside of the hypothalamus and influence locomotion through unknown means. The second includes neurons in the preoptic nucleus, which send long-range projections to targets throughout the brain, including the mid- and hindbrain, where they activate premotor circuits involved in swimming and sensorimotor integration. These data suggest a broad regulation of motor behavior by DA neurons within multiple hypothalamic nuclei and elucidate a novel functional mechanism for the preoptic DA neurons in the initiation of movement.

Keywords: behavior; calcium imaging; dopamine; hypothalamus; sensorimotor; zebrafish.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Intravital Microscopy / methods
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton
  • Models, Animal
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Optogenetics
  • Preoptic Area / cytology
  • Preoptic Area / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Video Recording
  • Zebrafish
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism


  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • th2 tyrosine hydroxylase 2, Danio rerio