The preoptic area and dorsal habenula jointly support homeostatic navigation in larval zebrafish

Curr Biol. 2024 Feb 5;34(3):489-504.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.12.030. Epub 2024 Jan 10.


Animals must maintain physiological processes within an optimal temperature range despite changes in their environment. Through behavioral assays, whole-brain functional imaging, and neural ablations, we show that larval zebrafish, an ectothermic vertebrate, achieves thermoregulation through homeostatic navigation-non-directional and directional movements toward the temperature closest to its physiological setpoint. A brain-wide circuit encompassing several brain regions enables this behavior. We identified the preoptic area of the hypothalamus (PoA) as a key brain structure in triggering non-directional reorientation when thermal conditions are worsening. This result shows an evolutionary conserved role of the PoA as principal thermoregulator of the brain also in ectotherms. We further show that the habenula (Hb)-interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) circuit retains a short-term memory of the sensory history to support the generation of coherent directed movements even in the absence of continuous sensory cues. We finally provide evidence that this circuit may not be exclusive for temperature but may convey a more abstract representation of relative valence of physiologically meaningful stimuli regardless of their specific identity to enable homeostatic navigation.

Keywords: behavioral strategy; dorsal habenula; ectothermic vs. endothermic; homeostasis; innate behavior; preoptic area; sensory context; thermoregulation; valence; zebrafish.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Habenula* / physiology
  • Larva / physiology
  • Preoptic Area
  • Zebrafish* / physiology