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1.  Forward Genetic Analysis of Visual Behavior in Zebrafish 
PLoS Genetics  2005;1(5):e66.
The visual system converts the distribution and wavelengths of photons entering the eye into patterns of neuronal activity, which then drive motor and endocrine behavioral responses. The gene products important for visual processing by a living and behaving vertebrate animal have not been identified in an unbiased fashion. Likewise, the genes that affect development of the nervous system to shape visual function later in life are largely unknown. Here we have set out to close this gap in our understanding by using a forward genetic approach in zebrafish. Moving stimuli evoke two innate reflexes in zebrafish larvae, the optomotor and the optokinetic response, providing two rapid and quantitative tests to assess visual function in wild-type (WT) and mutant animals. These behavioral assays were used in a high-throughput screen, encompassing over half a million fish. In almost 2,000 F2 families mutagenized with ethylnitrosourea, we discovered 53 recessive mutations in 41 genes. These new mutations have generated a broad spectrum of phenotypes, which vary in specificity and severity, but can be placed into only a handful of classes. Developmental phenotypes include complete absence or abnormal morphogenesis of photoreceptors, and deficits in ganglion cell differentiation or axon targeting. Other mutations evidently leave neuronal circuits intact, but disrupt phototransduction, light adaptation, or behavior-specific responses. Almost all of the mutants are morphologically indistinguishable from WT, and many survive to adulthood. Genetic linkage mapping and initial molecular analyses show that our approach was effective in identifying genes with functions specific to the visual system. This collection of zebrafish behavioral mutants provides a novel resource for the study of normal vision and its genetic disorders.
While many genes have previously been implicated in the development and function of the vertebrate central nervous system, no systematic attempt has been made to build a comprehensive catalog of genes important for its behavioral output. Motion evokes two visual reflexes in zebrafish larvae, the optomotor and the optokinetic response. After mutagenesis with ethylnitrosourea and inbreeding over two generations, the authors of this study searched for point mutations disrupting either, or both, of these innate responses. In almost 2,000 F2 families, they discovered 53 recessive mutations in 41 genetic loci. Developmental phenotypes included abnormal differentiation or absence of photoreceptors, and deficits in retinal ganglion cell differentiation or axon targeting. Physiological phenotypes include disruptions of phototransduction, light adaptation, and behavior-specific responses. Most of the mutants are morphologically indistinguishable from wild type, and many survive to adulthood. Genetic linkage mapping and initial molecular analyses revealed that the authors' approach identified genes with functions specific to the visual system. This collection of zebrafish behavioral mutants provides a novel resource for studying the genetic architecture of the vertebrate central nervous system.
PMCID: PMC1287954  PMID: 16311625
2.  Cerebellar Output in Zebrafish: An Analysis of Spatial Patterns and Topography in Eurydendroid Cell Projections 
The cerebellum is a brain region responsible for motor coordination and for refining motor programs. While a great deal is known about the structure and connectivity of the mammalian cerebellum, fundamental questions regarding its function in behavior remain unanswered. Recently, the zebrafish has emerged as a useful model organism for cerebellar studies, owing in part to the similarity in cerebellar circuits between zebrafish and mammals. While the cell types composing their cerebellar cortical circuits are generally conserved with mammals, zebrafish lack deep cerebellar nuclei, and instead a majority of cerebellar output comes from a single type of neuron: the eurydendroid cell. To describe spatial patterns of cerebellar output in zebrafish, we have used genetic techniques to label and trace eurydendroid cells individually and en masse. We have found that cerebellar output targets the thalamus and optic tectum, and have confirmed the presence of pre-synaptic terminals from eurydendroid cells in these structures using a synaptically targeted GFP. By observing individual eurydendroid cells, we have shown that different medial-lateral regions of the cerebellum have eurydendroid cells projecting to different targets. Finally, we found topographic organization in the connectivity between the cerebellum and the optic tectum, where more medial eurydendroid cells project to the rostral tectum while lateral cells project to the caudal tectum. These findings indicate that there is spatial logic underpinning cerebellar output in zebrafish with likely implications for cerebellar function.
PMCID: PMC3612595  PMID: 23554587
zebrafish; cerebellum; eurydendroid; optic tectum; thalamus; topography; Gal4
3.  A Computational Framework for Ultrastructural Mapping of Neural Circuitry 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(3):e1000074.
Circuitry mapping of metazoan neural systems is difficult because canonical neural regions (regions containing one or more copies of all components) are large, regional borders are uncertain, neuronal diversity is high, and potential network topologies so numerous that only anatomical ground truth can resolve them. Complete mapping of a specific network requires synaptic resolution, canonical region coverage, and robust neuronal classification. Though transmission electron microscopy (TEM) remains the optimal tool for network mapping, the process of building large serial section TEM (ssTEM) image volumes is rendered difficult by the need to precisely mosaic distorted image tiles and register distorted mosaics. Moreover, most molecular neuronal class markers are poorly compatible with optimal TEM imaging. Our objective was to build a complete framework for ultrastructural circuitry mapping. This framework combines strong TEM-compliant small molecule profiling with automated image tile mosaicking, automated slice-to-slice image registration, and gigabyte-scale image browsing for volume annotation. Specifically we show how ultrathin molecular profiling datasets and their resultant classification maps can be embedded into ssTEM datasets and how scripted acquisition tools (SerialEM), mosaicking and registration (ir-tools), and large slice viewers (MosaicBuilder, Viking) can be used to manage terabyte-scale volumes. These methods enable large-scale connectivity analyses of new and legacy data. In well-posed tasks (e.g., complete network mapping in retina), terabyte-scale image volumes that previously would require decades of assembly can now be completed in months. Perhaps more importantly, the fusion of molecular profiling, image acquisition by SerialEM, ir-tools volume assembly, and data viewers/annotators also allow ssTEM to be used as a prospective tool for discovery in nonneural systems and a practical screening methodology for neurogenetics. Finally, this framework provides a mechanism for parallelization of ssTEM imaging, volume assembly, and data analysis across an international user base, enhancing the productivity of a large cohort of electron microscopists.
Author Summary
Building an accurate neural network diagram of the vertebrate nervous system is a major challenge in neuroscience. Diverse groups of neurons that function together form complex patterns of connections often spanning large regions of brain tissue, with uncertain borders. Although serial-section transmission electron microscopy remains the optimal tool for fine anatomical analyses, the time and cost of the undertaking has been prohibitive. We have assembled a complete framework for ultrastructural mapping using conventional transmission electron microscopy that tremendously accelerates image analysis. This framework combines small-molecule profiling to classify cells, automated image acquisition, automated mosaic formation, automated slice-to-slice image registration, and large-scale image browsing for volume annotation. Terabyte-scale image volumes requiring decades or more to assemble manually can now be automatically built in a few months. This makes serial-section transmission electron microscopy practical for high-resolution exploration of all complex tissue systems (neural or nonneural) as well as for ultrastructural screening of genetic models.
A framework for analysis of terabyte-scale serial-section transmission electron microscopic (ssTEM) datasets overcomes computational barriers and accelerates high-resolution tissue analysis, providing a practical way of mapping complex neural circuitry and an effective screening tool for neurogenetics.
PMCID: PMC2661966  PMID: 19855814
4.  Towards a Comprehensive Catalog of Zebrafish Behavior 1.0 and Beyond 
Zebrafish  2013;10(1):70-86.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are rapidly gaining popularity in translational neuroscience and behavioral research. Physiological similarity to mammals, ease of genetic manipulations, sensitivity to pharmacological and genetic factors, robust behavior, low cost, and potential for high-throughput screening contribute to the growing utility of zebrafish models in this field. Understanding zebrafish behavioral phenotypes provides important insights into neural pathways, physiological biomarkers, and genetic underpinnings of normal and pathological brain function. Novel zebrafish paradigms continue to appear with an encouraging pace, thus necessitating a consistent terminology and improved understanding of the behavioral repertoire. What can zebrafish ‘do’, and how does their altered brain function translate into behavioral actions? To help address these questions, we have developed a detailed catalog of zebrafish behaviors (Zebrafish Behavior Catalog, ZBC) that covers both larval and adult models. Representing a beginning of creating a more comprehensive ethogram of zebrafish behavior, this effort will improve interpretation of published findings, foster cross-species behavioral modeling, and encourage new groups to apply zebrafish neurobehavioral paradigms in their research. In addition, this glossary creates a framework for developing a zebrafish neurobehavioral ontology, ultimately to become part of a unified animal neurobehavioral ontology, which collectively will contribute to better integration of biological data within and across species.
PMCID: PMC3629777  PMID: 23590400
5.  Analyzing the structure and function of neuronal circuits in zebrafish 
The clever choice of animal models has been instrumental for many breakthrough discoveries in life sciences. One of the outstanding challenges in neuroscience is the in-depth analysis of neuronal circuits to understand how interactions between large numbers of neurons give rise to the computational power of the brain. A promising model organism to address this challenge is the zebrafish, not only because it is cheap, transparent and accessible to sophisticated genetic manipulations but also because it offers unique advantages for quantitative analyses of circuit structure and function. One of the most important advantages of zebrafish is its small brain size, both at larval and adult stages. Small brains enable exhaustive measurements of neuronal activity patterns by optical imaging and facilitate large-scale reconstructions of wiring diagrams by electron microscopic approaches. Such information is important, and probably essential, to obtain mechanistic insights into neuronal computations underlying higher brain functions and dysfunctions. This review provides a brief overview over current methods and motivations for dense reconstructions of neuronal activity and connectivity patterns. It then discusses selective advantages of zebrafish and provides examples how these advantages are exploited to study neuronal computations in the olfactory bulb.
PMCID: PMC3632777  PMID: 23630467
zebrafish; neuronal circuit; reconstruction; activity pattern; olfactory system
6.  Graph Theoretical Model of a Sensorimotor Connectome in Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37292.
Mapping the detailed connectivity patterns (connectomes) of neural circuits is a central goal of neuroscience. The best quantitative approach to analyzing connectome data is still unclear but graph theory has been used with success. We present a graph theoretical model of the posterior lateral line sensorimotor pathway in zebrafish. The model includes 2,616 neurons and 167,114 synaptic connections. Model neurons represent known cell types in zebrafish larvae, and connections were set stochastically following rules based on biological literature. Thus, our model is a uniquely detailed computational representation of a vertebrate connectome. The connectome has low overall connection density, with 2.45% of all possible connections, a value within the physiological range. We used graph theoretical tools to compare the zebrafish connectome graph to small-world, random and structured random graphs of the same size. For each type of graph, 100 randomly generated instantiations were considered. Degree distribution (the number of connections per neuron) varied more in the zebrafish graph than in same size graphs with less biological detail. There was high local clustering and a short average path length between nodes, implying a small-world structure similar to other neural connectomes and complex networks. The graph was found not to be scale-free, in agreement with some other neural connectomes. An experimental lesion was performed that targeted three model brain neurons, including the Mauthner neuron, known to control fast escape turns. The lesion decreased the number of short paths between sensory and motor neurons analogous to the behavioral effects of the same lesion in zebrafish. This model is expandable and can be used to organize and interpret a growing database of information on the zebrafish connectome.
PMCID: PMC3356276  PMID: 22624008
7.  The Tumor Suppressor Gene Retinoblastoma-1 Is Required for Retinotectal Development and Visual Function in Zebrafish 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(11):e1003106.
Mutations in the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene (rb1) cause both sporadic and familial forms of childhood retinoblastoma. Despite its clinical relevance, the roles of rb1 during normal retinotectal development and function are not well understood. We have identified mutations in the zebrafish space cadet locus that lead to a premature truncation of the rb1 gene, identical to known mutations in sporadic and familial forms of retinoblastoma. In wild-type embryos, axons of early born retinal ganglion cells (RGC) pioneer the retinotectal tract to guide later born RGC axons. In rb1 deficient embryos, these early born RGCs show a delay in cell cycle exit, causing a transient deficit of differentiated RGCs. As a result, later born mutant RGC axons initially fail to exit the retina, resulting in optic nerve hypoplasia. A significant fraction of mutant RGC axons eventually exit the retina, but then frequently project to the incorrect optic tectum. Although rb1 mutants eventually establish basic retinotectal connectivity, behavioral analysis reveals that mutants exhibit deficits in distinct, visually guided behaviors. Thus, our analysis of zebrafish rb1 mutants reveals a previously unknown yet critical role for rb1 during retinotectal tract development and visual function.
Author Summary
Before an organism can execute necessary behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, the underlying neural circuits that regulate these behaviors must be precisely wired during embryonic development. A properly wired neural circuit is the product of a sophisticated collaboration of multiple genetic pathways that orchestrate cell type specification, the extension and growth of the cell processes that connect each circuit component, and the refinement of these connections. In an unbiased genetic screen designed to identify the genes required for proper circuit formation in developing zebrafish embryos, we identified a human disease causing mutation in the retinoblastoma-1 (rb1) gene that disrupts the formation of the zebrafish visual circuit. rb1 canonically functions to regulate the cell cycle, and when mutated the loss of rb1-mediated cell cycle control elicits childhood ocular tumor formation. Genetic models of rb1 have been developed to study the developmental role of rb1 in the retina; however, ectopic cell proliferation and death within the retina have largely precluded the ability to evaluate the formation and integrity of neural circuits connecting the retina with the brain. In this study, through genetic and cellular analysis of a zebrafish rb1 mutant, we reveal a novel role for rb1 in regulating the establishment and functionality of the visual circuitry.
PMCID: PMC3510048  PMID: 23209449
8.  Mind the fish: zebrafish as a model in cognitive social neuroscience 
Understanding how the brain implements social behavior on one hand, and how social processes feedback on the brain to promote fine-tuning of behavioral output according to changes in the social environment is a major challenge in contemporary neuroscience. A critical step to take this challenge successfully is finding the appropriate level of analysis when relating social to biological phenomena. Given the enormous complexity of both the neural networks of the brain and social systems, the use of a cognitive level of analysis (in an information processing perspective) is proposed here as an explanatory interface between brain and behavior. A conceptual framework for a cognitive approach to comparative social neuroscience is proposed, consisting of the following steps to be taken across different species with varying social systems: (1) identification of the functional building blocks of social skills; (2) identification of the cognitive mechanisms underlying the previously identified social skills; and (3) mapping these information processing mechanisms onto the brain. Teleost fish are presented here as a group of choice to develop this approach, given the diversity of social systems present in closely related species that allows for planned phylogenetic comparisons, and the availability of neurogenetic tools that allows the visualization and manipulation of selected neural circuits in model species such as the zebrafish. Finally, the state-of-the art of zebrafish social cognition and of the tools available to map social cognitive abilities to neural circuits in zebrafish are reviewed.
PMCID: PMC3737460  PMID: 23964204
social neuroscience; zebrafish; social cognition; cognitive modules; social behavior; social brain
9.  Cadherin-2 Controls Directional Chain Migration of Cerebellar Granule Neurons 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(11):e1000240.
Imaging cerebellar granule neurons in zebrafish embryos reveals a further role for Cadherin-2 in neurogenesis: regulating cohesive and directional granule cell migration via intra-membranous Cadherin-2 relocalisation and centrosome stabilization.
Long distance migration of differentiating granule cells from the cerebellar upper rhombic lip has been reported in many vertebrates. However, the knowledge about the subcellular dynamics and molecular mechanisms regulating directional neuronal migration in vivo is just beginning to emerge. Here we show by time-lapse imaging in live zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos that cerebellar granule cells migrate in chain-like structures in a homotypic glia-independent manner. Temporal rescue of zebrafish Cadherin-2 mutants reveals a direct role for this adhesion molecule in mediating chain formation and coherent migratory behavior of granule cells. In addition, Cadherin-2 maintains the orientation of cell polarization in direction of migration, whereas in Cadherin-2 mutant granule cells the site of leading edge formation and centrosome positioning is randomized. Thus, the lack of adhesion leads to impaired directional migration with a mispositioning of Cadherin-2 deficient granule cells as a consequence. Furthermore, these cells fail to differentiate properly into mature granule neurons. In vivo imaging of Cadherin-2 localization revealed the dynamics of this adhesion molecule during cell locomotion. Cadherin-2 concentrates transiently at the front of granule cells during the initiation of individual migratory steps by intramembraneous transport. The presence of Cadherin-2 in the leading edge corresponds to the observed centrosome orientation in direction of migration. Our results indicate that Cadherin-2 plays a key role during zebrafish granule cell migration by continuously coordinating cell-cell contacts and cell polarity through the remodeling of adherens junctions. As Cadherin-containing adherens junctions have been shown to be connected via microtubule fibers with the centrosome, our results offer an explanation for the mechanism of leading edge and centrosome positioning during nucleokinetic migration of many vertebrate neuronal populations.
Author Summary
As the vertebrate nervous system develops, neurons migrate from proliferation zones to their later place of function. Adhesion molecules have been implicated as key players in regulating cellular motility. In addition, the centrosome (the main microtubule organizing center of the cell) orients into the direction of neuronal migration. In this study we assign the trans-membrane adhesion molecule Cadherin-2 with an important function in the migration of granule neurons in the cerebellum, by interconnecting adhesion with directionality of migration. Time-lapse analysis in transparent zebrafish embryos revealed that Cadherin-2 enables granule neurons to form ‘chain’-like structures during migration. In addition, this adhesion molecule stabilized the position of the centrosome at the leading edge of the migrating neuron. In vivo tracing of a fluorescent Cadherin-2 reporter molecule showed that during individual migratory steps of a granule neuron, Cadherin-2 is shifted along the cell membrane in contact with chain-migrating neighboring neurons to the front compartment of migrating cells. Cadherin-2 is a crucial component of adherens junctions, which are connected via microtubules to the centrosome. We propose that the forward translocation of Cadherin-2-containing adherens junctions stabilizes the centrosome to the cell's front. Cadherin-2 thus transmits cell-cell contact modulation into directional migration of cerebellar granule neurons.
PMCID: PMC2766073  PMID: 19901980
10.  Pigment Pattern in jaguar/obelix Zebrafish Is Caused by a Kir7.1 Mutation: Implications for the Regulation of Melanosome Movement 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(11):e197.
Many animals have a variety of pigment patterns, even within a species, and these patterns may be one of the driving forces of speciation. Recent molecular genetic studies on zebrafish have revealed that interaction among pigment cells plays a key role in pattern formation, but the mechanism of pattern formation is unclear. The zebrafish jaguar/obelix mutant has broader stripes than wild-type fish. In this mutant, the development of pigment cells is normal but their distribution is altered, making these fish ideal for studying the process of pigment pattern formation. Here, we utilized a positional cloning method to determine that the inwardly rectifying potassium channel 7.1 (Kir7.1) gene is responsible for pigment cell distribution among jaguar/obelix mutant fish. Furthermore, in jaguar/obelix mutant alleles, we identified amino acid changes in the conserved region of Kir7.1, each of which affected K+ channel activity as demonstrated by patch-clamp experiments. Injection of a bacterial artificial chromosome containing the wild-type Kir7.1 genomic sequence rescued the jaguar/obelix phenotype. From these results, we conclude that mutations in Kir7.1 are responsible for jaguar/obelix. We also determined that the ion channel function defect of melanophores expressing mutant Kir7.1 altered the cellular response to external signals. We discovered that mutant melanophores cannot respond correctly to the melanosome dispersion signal derived from the sympathetic neuron and that melanosome aggregation is constitutively activated. In zebrafish and medaka, it is well known that melanosome aggregation and subsequent melanophore death increase when fish are kept under constant light conditions. These observations indicate that melanophores of jaguar/obelix mutant fish have a defect in the signaling pathway downstream of the α2-adrenoceptor. Taken together, our results suggest that the cellular defect of the Kir7.1 mutation is directly responsible for the pattern change in the jaguar/obelix mutant.
Animals display a variety of skin pigment patterns. How these often intricate patterns are formed, however, is the longstanding question. Zebrafish is the only model organism having a pigment pattern, and thus it provides a unique system in which to investigate the mechanism of pattern formation. The striped pigment pattern of zebrafish comprises two types of pigment cells, melanophores (black chromatophores) and xanthophores (yellow chromatophores), and defects in pigment cell differentiation cause abnormal pigment patterns. However, the mechanism(s) underlying the arrangement of pigmented cells during development is unclear. In this paper, the authors cloned and studied the zebrafish mutant gene jaguar/obelix and identified it as inwardly rectifying potassium channel 7.1 (Kir7.1). Although the development of pigment cells is normal in jaguar/obelix fish, they have abnormally wide body stripes; thus, cell positioning is altered, suggesting that the jaguar/obelix functions in the system that determines pigment patterning. The connection between the Kir7.1 channel and the pigment pattern remains unclear, but the mutant melanophores are defective in intracellular aggregation and dispersion of the melanosome (pigment) controlled by the sympathetic neuron, suggesting that the signaling pathway activated by the neuron is also related to pigment pattern formation.
PMCID: PMC1657052  PMID: 17121467
11.  dyschronic, a Drosophila Homolog of a Deaf-Blindness Gene, Regulates Circadian Output and Slowpoke Channels 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(4):e1002671.
Many aspects of behavior and physiology are under circadian control. In Drosophila, the molecular clock that regulates rhythmic patterns of behavior has been extensively characterized. In contrast, genetic loci involved in linking the clock to alterations in motor activity have remained elusive. In a forward-genetic screen, we uncovered a new component of the circadian output pathway, which we have termed dyschronic (dysc). dysc mutants exhibit arrhythmic locomotor behavior, yet their eclosion rhythms are normal and clock protein cycling remains intact. Intriguingly, dysc is the closest Drosophila homolog of whirlin, a gene linked to type II Usher syndrome, the leading cause of deaf-blindness in humans. Whirlin and other Usher proteins are expressed in the mammalian central nervous system, yet their function in the CNS has not been investigated. We show that DYSC is expressed in major neuronal tracts and regulates expression of the calcium-activated potassium channel SLOWPOKE (SLO), an ion channel also required in the circadian output pathway. SLO and DYSC are co-localized in the brain and control each other's expression post-transcriptionally. Co-immunoprecipitation experiments demonstrate they form a complex, suggesting they regulate each other through protein–protein interaction. Furthermore, electrophysiological recordings of neurons in the adult brain show that SLO-dependent currents are greatly reduced in dysc mutants. Our work identifies a Drosophila homolog of a deaf-blindness gene as a new component of the circadian output pathway and an important regulator of ion channel expression, and suggests novel roles for Usher proteins in the mammalian nervous system.
Author Summary
In most organisms, endogenous circadian clocks help to restrict adaptive activities such as foraging and mating to ecologically appropriate periods of the day–night cycle. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been a crucial genetic model system for understanding the molecular underpinnings of the clock. Here, using a forward-genetic screen for mutant flies that lack circadian patterns of locomotion, we identify a novel gene critical to circadian behavior, which we have termed dyschronic (dysc). Interestingly, DYSC is not part of the molecular clock itself, but acts in an intermediate circuit between clock cells and motor neurons to regulate temporal alterations in locomotion. DYSC contains several protein-binding domains, suggesting a role as a scaffolding protein. Indeed, we show that DYSC forms a mutually dependent complex with the SLOWPOKE Ca2+–activated potassium channel, an ion channel required for circadian output. DYSC regulates SLOWPOKE expression and SLOWPOKE-dependent currents in the fly brain. Furthermore, dysc is the closest Drosophila homolog of whirlin, a locus mutated in the human deaf-blindness disease Type II Usher syndrome. Our results identify a novel ion channel regulator that impacts neuronal physiology and complex behavior, and suggest new roles for Whirlin in the human nervous system.
PMCID: PMC3330124  PMID: 22532808
12.  Associative learning in zebrafish (Danio rerio) in the plus maze 
Behavioural brain research  2009;207(1):99.
Zebrafish has been gaining increasing amount of interest in behavioral neuroscience as this species may represent a good compromise between system complexity and practical simplicity. Particularly successful have been those studies that utilized zebrafish as a screening tool. Given the complexity of the mechanisms of learning, for example, forward genetic screens with zebrafish could potentially reveal previously unknown genes and molecular pathways that subserve this function. These screens, however, require appropriate phenotypical (e.g. behavioral) paradigms. A step in this direction is the characterization of learning abilities of zebrafish. Here we employ two classical learning tasks in a plus maze. In the first, zebrafish are required to associate a visible cue with food reward irrespective of the location of this pairing. In the second, zebrafish are required to associate the spatial location of food reward irrespective of intra-maze cues. Our results demonstrate that zebrafish perform well in both tasks and show significant acquisition of the association between cue and reward as well as between location and reward. We conclude that zebrafish, similarly to classical laboratory rodents, may have utility in the biological analysis of simple as well as complex forms of associative learning.
PMCID: PMC2814798  PMID: 19800919
associative learning; Danio; plus maze; relational learning; spatial learning; zebrafish
13.  Characterization of Sleep in Zebrafish and Insomnia in Hypocretin Receptor Mutants 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(10):e277.
Sleep is a fundamental biological process conserved across the animal kingdom. The study of how sleep regulatory networks are conserved is needed to better understand sleep across evolution. We present a detailed description of a sleep state in adult zebrafish characterized by reversible periods of immobility, increased arousal threshold, and place preference. Rest deprivation using gentle electrical stimulation is followed by a sleep rebound, indicating homeostatic regulation. In contrast to mammals and similarly to birds, light suppresses sleep in zebrafish, with no evidence for a sleep rebound. We also identify a null mutation in the sole receptor for the wake-promoting neuropeptide hypocretin (orexin) in zebrafish. Fish lacking this receptor demonstrate short and fragmented sleep in the dark, in striking contrast to the excessive sleepiness and cataplexy of narcolepsy in mammals. Consistent with this observation, we find that the hypocretin receptor does not colocalize with known major wake-promoting monoaminergic and cholinergic cell groups in the zebrafish. Instead, it colocalizes with large populations of GABAergic neurons, including a subpopulation of Adra2a-positive GABAergic cells in the anterior hypothalamic area, neurons that could assume a sleep modulatory role. Our study validates the use of zebrafish for the study of sleep and indicates molecular diversity in sleep regulatory networks across vertebrates.
Author Summary
Sleep disorders are common and poorly understood. Further, how and why the brain generates sleep is the object of intense speculations. In this study, we demonstrate that a bony fish used for genetic studies sleeps and that a molecule, hypocretin, involved in causing narcolepsy, is conserved. In humans, narcolepsy is a sleep disorder associated with sleepiness, abnormal dreaming, and paralysis and insomnia. We generated a mutant fish in which the hypocretin system was disrupted. Intriguingly, this fish sleep mutant does not display sleepiness or paralysis but has a 30% reduction of its sleep time at night and a 60% decrease in sleep bout length compared with non-mutant fish. We also studied the relationships between the hypocretin system and other sleep regulatory brain systems in zebrafish and found differences in expression patterns in the brain that may explain the differences in behavior. Our study illustrates how a sleep regulatory system may have evolved across vertebrate phylogeny. Zebrafish, a powerful genetic model that has the advantage of transparency to study neuronal networks in vivo, can be used to study sleep.
Zebrafish sleep, and have the receptor for the wake-inducing molecule hypocretin. While mutation in this receptor causes narcolepsy in mammals, in fish, sleep is fragmented, demonstrating differences in sleep control in vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2020497  PMID: 17941721
14.  Emergence of patterned activity in the developing zebrafish spinal cord 
Current Biology  2011;22(2):93-102.
Developing neural networks display spontaneous and correlated rhythmic bursts of action potentials that are essential for circuit refinement. In the spinal cord, it is poorly understood how correlated activity is acquired and how its emergence relates to the formation of the spinal central pattern generator (CPG), the circuit that mediates rhythmic behaviors like walking and swimming. It is also unknown whether early, uncorrelated activity is necessary for the formation of the coordinated CPG.
Time-lapse imaging in the intact zebrafish embryo with the genetically-encoded calcium indicator GCaMP3 revealed a rapid transition from slow, sporadic activity to fast, ipsilaterally correlated, and contralaterally anti-correlated activity, characteristic of the spinal CPG. Ipsilateral correlations were acquired through the coalescence of local microcircuits. Brief optical manipulation of activity with the light-driven pump Halorhodopsin revealed that the transition to correlated activity was associated with a strengthening of ipsilateral connections, likely mediated by gap junctions. Contralateral antagonism increased in strength at the same time. The transition to coordinated activity was disrupted by long-term optical inhibition of sporadic activity in motoneurons and VeLD interneurons, and resulted in more neurons exhibiting uncoordinated activity patterns at later time points.
These findings show that the CPG in the zebrafish spinal cord emerges directly from a sporadically active network as functional connectivity strengthens between local and then more distal neurons. These results also reveal that early, sporadic activity in a subset of ventral spinal neurons is required for the integration of maturing neurons into the coordinated CPG network.
PMCID: PMC3267884  PMID: 22197243
15.  Spontaneous Seizures and Altered Gene Expression in GABA Signaling Pathways in a mind bomb Mutant Zebrafish 
Disruption of E3 ubiquitin ligase activity in immature zebrafish mind bomb mutants, leads to a failure in Notch signaling, excessive numbers of neurons, and depletion of neural progenitor cells. This neurogenic phenotype is associated with defects in neural patterning and brain development. Because developmental brain abnormalities are recognized as an important feature of childhood neurological disorders such as epilepsy and autism, we determined whether zebrafish mutants with grossly abnormal brain structure exhibit spontaneous electrical activity that resembles the long-duration, high-amplitude multi-spike discharges reported in immature zebrafish exposed to convulsant drugs. Electrophysiological recordings from agar immobilized mind bomb mutants at three days postfertilization (dpf) confirmed the occurrence of electrographic seizure activity; seizure-like behaviors were also noted during locomotion video tracking of freely behaving mutants. To identify genes differentially expressed in the mind bomb mutant and provide insight into molecular pathways that may mediate these epileptic phenotypes, a transcriptome analysis was performed using microarray. Interesting candidate genes were further analyzed using conventional reverse transcriptasepolymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR), as well as whole-mount in situ hybridization. Approximately 150 genes, some implicated in development, transcription, cell metabolism and signal transduction, are differentially regulated including down-regulation of several genes necessary for GABA-mediated signaling. These findings identify a collection of gene transcripts that may be responsible for the abnormal electrical discharge and epileptic activities observed in a mind bomb zebrafish mutant. This work may have important implications for neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders associated with mutations in ubiquitin ligase activity.
Notch is an essential component of an evolutionarily conserved signal transduction cascade mediating development. In neuroectoderm, where cells have the potential to become neurons, activated Notch inhibits proneural gene expression in a process referred to as lateral inhibition. In the absence of Notch-mediated lateral inhibition, too many early-born cells differentiate into neurons (Chitnis et al., 1995; de la Pompa et al., 1997). Recent studies identified several E3 ligases that modulate Notch signaling through ubiquitin-dependent protein degradation and endocytosis (Lai, 2002). Ubiquitination, which occurs when an E3 ligase enzyme binds to both substrate and an E2 thioesterified protein (Deshaies and Joazeiro, 2009), is a key mechanism regulating many cellular processes. Mutation or small deletions within the ubiquitin E3A ligase gene in humans has been linked to autism spectrum disorders (Glessner et al., 2009) and Angelman syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder characterized by developmental delay, severe intellectual disability, absent speech, exuberant behavior, motor impairment, and epilepsy (Clayton-Smith and Laan, 2003).
PMCID: PMC2962868  PMID: 20943912
seizure; epilepsy; extracellular recording; GABA; GAD; telencephalon
16.  Mutual inhibition among postmitotic neurons regulates robustness of brain wiring in Drosophila 
eLife  2013;2:e00337.
Brain connectivity maps display a delicate balance between individual variation and stereotypy, suggesting the existence of dedicated mechanisms that simultaneously permit and limit individual variation. We show that during the development of the Drosophila central nervous system, mutual inhibition among groups of neighboring postmitotic neurons during development regulates the robustness of axon target choice in a nondeterministic neuronal circuit. Specifically, neighboring postmitotic neurons communicate through Notch signaling during axonal targeting, to ensure balanced alternative axon target choices without a corresponding change in cell fate. Loss of Notch in postmitotic neurons modulates an axon's target choice. However, because neighboring axons respond by choosing the complementary target, the stereotyped connectivity pattern is preserved. In contrast, loss of Notch in clones of neighboring postmitotic neurons results in erroneous coinnervation by multiple axons. Our observations establish mutual inhibition of axonal target choice as a robustness mechanism for brain wiring and unveil a novel cell fate independent function for canonical Notch signaling.
eLife digest
The brains of all members of a species are similar, but not identical, and these differences are partly responsible for the range of behaviors displayed by individuals. The development of the nervous system is known to depend on the Notch signaling pathway, but the mechanisms that regulate the balance between fixed patterns of neuronal connectivity vs individual variability are largely unknown.
Notch proteins are transmembrane proteins, which means that they have one part inside the cell membrane and another outside the cell. When a ligand protein—such as a Delta ligand—binds to the part that is outside the cell, the Notch protein breaks in two and the part inside the cell travels to the nucleus, where it can influence the expression of genes.
Cells are selected to become neurons through a process known as mutual, or lateral, inhibition. When a Delta ligand belonging to one cell binds to the Notch receptor on a neighboring cell, the production of Delta ligands in the second cell is reduced. This amplifies any initial differences in the amount of Delta produced by each cell, and leads ultimately to them becoming distinct cell types.
Now, Langen et al. show that this same mechanism is reactivated at a later stage of development during wiring up of the visual system. They used the fruit fly (Drosophila)—a model organism with a fully sequenced genome and short intergeneration time—to study a group of brain cells known as dorsal cluster neurons. At the end of the fruit fly larval stage, these neurons extend long axons across the brain to the opposite hemisphere: however, it is unclear how the neurons decide which cells to form connections with.
Using genetically modified flies, Langen et al. showed that inhibiting Notch in a single dorsal cluster neuron caused that neuron to target a different cell: however, other neurons adjusted their choices accordingly so that the overall pattern of connections remained unchanged. Inhibiting Notch in a cluster of dorsal cluster neurons, on the other hand, disrupted the entire network, suggesting that Notch-mediated communication between neurons (via mutual inhibition) is needed to establish a robust wiring map.
Langen et al. suggest that evolution has favored a mechanism that ensures that the overall pattern of connections within a circuit is preserved, while individual connections differ from one species member to the next.
PMCID: PMC3589824  PMID: 23471010
Neurobiology; Neural Circuit; Robustness; Variability; Notch Signaling; Axonal targeting; D. melanogaster
17.  Monitoring of Single-Cell Responses in the Optic Tectum of Adult Zebrafish with Dextran-Coupled Calcium Dyes Delivered via Local Electroporation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62846.
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become one of the major animal models for in vivo examination of sensory and neuronal computation. Similar to Xenopus tadpoles neural activity in the optic tectum, the major region controlling visually guided behavior, can be examined in zebrafish larvae by optical imaging. Prerequisites of these approaches are usually the transparency of larvae up to a certain age and the use of two-photon microscopy. This principle of fluorescence excitation was necessary to suppress crosstalk between signals from individual neurons, which is a critical issue when using membrane-permeant dyes. This makes the equipment to study neuronal processing costly and limits the approach to the study of larvae. Thus there is lack of knowledge about the properties of neurons in the optic tectum of adult animals. We established a procedure to circumvent these problems, enabling in vivo calcium imaging in the optic tectum of adult zebrafish. Following local application of dextran-coupled dyes single-neuron activity of adult zebrafish can be monitored with conventional widefield microscopy, because dye labeling remains restricted to tens of neurons or less. Among the neurons characterized with our technique we found neurons that were selective for a certain pattern orientation as well as neurons that responded in a direction-selective way to visual motion. These findings are consistent with previous studies and indicate that the functional integrity of neuronal circuits in the optic tectum of adult zebrafish is preserved with our staining technique. Overall, our protocol for in vivo calcium imaging provides a useful approach to monitor visual responses of individual neurons in the optic tectum of adult zebrafish even when only widefield microscopy is available. This approach will help to obtain valuable insight into the principles of visual computation in adult vertebrates and thus complement previous work on developing visual circuits.
PMCID: PMC3647071  PMID: 23667529
18.  Imaging zebrafish neural circuitry from whole brain to synapse 
Recent advances in imaging tools are inspiring zebrafish researchers to tackle ever more ambitious questions in the neurosciences. Behaviorally fundamental conserved neural networks can now be potentially studied using zebrafish from a brain-wide scale to molecular resolution. In this perspective, we offer a roadmap by which a zebrafish researcher can navigate the course from collecting neural activities across the brain associated with a behavior, to unraveling molecular identities and testing the functional relevance of active neurons. In doing so, important insights will be gained as to how neural networks generate behaviors and assimilate changes in synaptic connectivity.
PMCID: PMC3634052  PMID: 23630470
zebrafish; clinical neuroscience; psychiatry; calcium imaging; synapse imaging; array tomography; whole brain imaging
19.  Fast functional imaging of multiple brain regions in intact zebrafish larvae using Selective Plane Illumination Microscopy 
The optical transparency and the small dimensions of zebrafish at the larval stage make it a vertebrate model of choice for brain-wide in-vivo functional imaging. However, current point-scanning imaging techniques, such as two-photon or confocal microscopy, impose a strong limit on acquisition speed which in turn sets the number of neurons that can be simultaneously recorded. At 5 Hz, this number is of the order of one thousand, i.e., approximately 1–2% of the brain. Here we demonstrate that this limitation can be greatly overcome by using Selective-plane Illumination Microscopy (SPIM). Zebrafish larvae expressing the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP3 were illuminated with a scanned laser sheet and imaged with a camera whose optical axis was oriented orthogonally to the illumination plane. This optical sectioning approach was shown to permit functional imaging of a very large fraction of the brain volume of 5–9-day-old larvae with single- or near single-cell resolution. The spontaneous activity of up to 5,000 neurons was recorded at 20 Hz for 20–60 min. By rapidly scanning the specimen in the axial direction, the activity of 25,000 individual neurons from 5 different z-planes (approximately 30% of the entire brain) could be simultaneously monitored at 4 Hz. Compared to point-scanning techniques, this imaging strategy thus yields a ≃20-fold increase in data throughput (number of recorded neurons times acquisition rate) without compromising the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The extended field of view offered by the SPIM method allowed us to directly identify large scale ensembles of neurons, spanning several brain regions, that displayed correlated activity and were thus likely to participate in common neural processes. The benefits and limitations of SPIM for functional imaging in zebrafish as well as future developments are briefly discussed.
PMCID: PMC3620503  PMID: 23576959
zebrafish model system; spontaneous activity; correlation analysis; neuroimaging; imaging; three-dimensional; light-sheet imaging
20.  In search of optimal fear inducing stimuli: Differential behavioral responses to computer animated images in zebrafish 
Behavioural brain research  2011;226(1):66-76.
Zebrafish has been gaining popularity in behavioral genetics and behavioral neuroscience as this species offers an excellent compromise between system complexity and practical simplicity for mechanistic analyses of brain and behavior function. Recently, a number of studies started to investigate methods with which fear responses may be induced reliably in zebrafish. The ultimate goal of these studies has been to develop zebrafish models of pathological processes and to investigate the mechanisms of fear and to eventually translate the findings to the human clinic. Previously, animated image of a sympatric predator of zebrafish was shown to induce fear responses. Here we expand on this recently gained knowledge and investigate whether other moving images may induce more robust fear responses. The images investigated include the original sympatric predator, the Indian leaf fish, another sympatric predator, the needle fish, a bird silhouette moved on the side or above the tank, an expanding dot mimicking rapid approach of an object shown on the side and from above the tank, as well as non-fear inducing images including a single and a group of zebrafish. Our results indicate that although the sympatric predators do induce some fear responses, the other images, particularly the expanding dot but also the bird silhouette shown from above are more effective. The results also reveal a stimulus dependent motor pattern response repertoire of zebrafish demonstrating that perhaps univariate quantification methods may not be appropriate for uncovering the complexity of fear or anxiety related phenotypical changes in this species.
PMCID: PMC3203217  PMID: 21920389
anti-predatory behavior; anxiety; fear; zebrafish
21.  A Rapid Approach to High-Resolution Fluorescence Imaging in Semi-Thick Brain Slices 
A fundamental goal to both basic and clinical neuroscience is to better understand the identities, molecular makeup, and patterns of connectivity that are characteristic to neurons in both normal and diseased brain. Towards this, a great deal of effort has been placed on building high-resolution neuroanatomical maps1–3. With the expansion of molecular genetics and advances in light microscopy has come the ability to query not only neuronal morphologies, but also the molecular and cellular makeup of individual neurons and their associated networks4. Major advances in the ability to mark and manipulate neurons through transgenic and gene targeting technologies in the rodent now allow investigators to ‘program’ neuronal subsets at will5–6. Arguably, one of the most influential contributions to contemporary neuroscience has been the discovery and cloning of genes encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) in marine invertebrates7–8, alongside their subsequent engineering to yield an ever-expanding toolbox of vital reporters9. Exploiting cell type-specific promoter activity to drive targeted FP expression in discrete neuronal populations now affords neuroanatomical investigation with genetic precision.
Engineering FP expression in neurons has vastly improved our understanding of brain structure and function. However, imaging individual neurons and their associated networks in deep brain tissues, or in three dimensions, has remained a challenge. Due to high lipid content, nervous tissue is rather opaque and exhibits auto fluorescence. These inherent biophysical properties make it difficult to visualize and image fluorescently labelled neurons at high resolution using standard epifluorescent or confocal microscopy beyond depths of tens of microns. To circumvent this challenge investigators often employ serial thin-section imaging and reconstruction methods10, or 2-photon laser scanning microscopy11. Current drawbacks to these approaches are the associated labor-intensive tissue preparation, or cost-prohibitive instrumentation respectively.
Here, we present a relatively rapid and simple method to visualize fluorescently labelled cells in fixed semi-thick mouse brain slices by optical clearing and imaging. In the attached protocol we describe the methods of: 1) fixing brain tissue in situ via intracardial perfusion, 2) dissection and removal of whole brain, 3) stationary brain embedding in agarose, 4) precision semi-thick slice preparation using new vibratome instrumentation, 5) clearing brain tissue through a glycerol gradient, and 6) mounting on glass slides for light microscopy and z-stack reconstruction (Figure 1).
For preparing brain slices we implemented a relatively new piece of instrumentation called the ‘Compresstome’ VF-200 ( This instrument is a semi-automated microtome equipped with a motorized advance and blade vibration system with features similar in function to other vibratomes. Unlike other vibratomes, the tissue to be sliced is mounted in an agarose plug within a stainless steel cylinder. The tissue is extruded at desired thicknesses from the cylinder, and cut by the forward advancing vibrating blade. The agarose plug/cylinder system allows for reproducible tissue mounting, alignment, and precision cutting. In our hands, the ‘Compresstome’ yields high quality tissue slices for electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, and direct fixed-tissue mounting and imaging. Combined with optical clearing, here we demonstrate the preparation of semi-thick fixed brain slices for high-resolution fluorescent imaging.
PMCID: PMC3197438  PMID: 21841756
Neuroscience; Issue 53; nervous tissue; neurons; confocal; epifluorescent; imaging; clearing; fluorescent proteins
22.  BIM and other BCL-2 family proteins exhibit cross-species conservation of function between zebrafish and mammals 
Cell death and differentiation  2008;15(6):1063-1072.
Here we investigate the function of zebrafish Bcl-2 family proteins and demonstrate important conservation of function across zebrafish and mammalian systems. We have isolated a zebrafish ortholog of mammalian BIM and show that it is the most toxic of the zebrafish BH3-only genes examined, sharing this characteristic with the mammalian BIM gene. The zebrafish bad gene shows a complete lack of embryonic lethality, but like mammalian BAD, its pro-apoptotic activity is regulated through phosphorylation of critical serines. We also found that the pattern of mitochondrial dysfunction observed by zebrafish BH3 domain peptides in a mammalian cytochrome c release assay recapitulates the pattern of embryonic lethality induced by the respective mRNA injections in vivo. In contrast to zebrafish Bim, Bid exhibited only weak binding to zebrafish Bcl-2 and moderate-to-weak overall lethality in zebrafish embryos and isolated mitochondria. Given that zebrafish Bcl-2 binds strongly to mammalian BID and BIM peptides and proteins, the protein identified as the zebrafish Bid ortholog has different properties than mammalian BID. Overall, our results demonstrate the high degree of functional conservation between zebrafish and mammalian Bcl-2 family proteins, thus validating the zebrafish as a model system to further dissect the molecular mechanisms that regulate apoptosis in future forward genetic and chemical modifier screens.
PMCID: PMC3212414  PMID: 18404156
bim; bad; bid; bcl-2; zebrafish; apoptosis
23.  Differential expression of neuroligin genes in the nervous system of zebrafish 
The establishment and maturation of appropriate synaptic connections is crucial in the developmental of neuronal circuits. Cellular adhesion is believed to play a central role in this process. Neuroligins are neuronal cell adhesion molecules that are hypothesized to act in the initial formation and maturation of synaptic connections. In order to establish the zebrafish as a model to investigate the in vivo role of Neuroligin proteins in nervous system development, we identified the zebrafish orthologs of neuroligin family members and characterized their expression. Zebrafish possess seven neuroligin genes. Synteny analysis and sequence comparisons show that NLGN2, NLGN3, and NLGN4X are duplicated in zebrafish, but NLGN1 has a single zebrafish ortholog. All seven zebrafish neuroligins are expressed in complex patterns in the developing nervous system and in the adult brain. The spatial and temporal expression patterns of these genes suggest that they occupy a role in nervous system development and maintenance.
PMCID: PMC3071345  PMID: 20063411
nlgn; NL; Nlg; cell adhesion; synapse; central nervous system
24.  Making Scents of Behavioral Genetics: Lessons from Drosophila 
Genetics research  2010;92(0):349-359.
The expression of behaviors is influenced by many segregating genes. Behaviors are, therefore, complex traits. They have, however, unique characteristics that set them apart from physiological and morphological quantitative traits. First, behaviors are the ultimate expression of the nervous system. This means that understanding the genetic underpinnings of behaviors requires a neurobiological context, i.e. an understanding of the genes-brain-behavior axis. In other words, how do ensembles of genes empower specific neural circuits to drive behaviors? Second, behaviors represent the interface between an organism and its environment. Thus, environmental effects are likely to make substantial contributions to determining behavioral outputs and genotype-by-environment interactions are expected to be prominent. It is important to differentiate between genes that contribute to manifestation of the behavioral phenotype and genes that contribute to phenotypic variation in behavior. The latter harbor polymorphisms that provide the substrates for evolution. This review focuses on olfactory behavior in Drosophila with the goal to illustrate how fundamental insights derived from studies on chemosensation can be applied to a wide range of behavioral phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3679500  PMID: 21429267
25.  Associative learning performance is impaired in zebrafish (Danio rerio) by the NMDA-R antagonist MK-801 
The zebrafish is gaining popularity in behavioral neuroscience perhaps because of a promise of efficient large scale mutagenesis and drug screens that could identify a substantial number of yet undiscovered molecular players involved in complex traits. Learning and memory are complex functions of the brain and the analysis of their mechanisms may benefit from such large scale zebrafish screens. One bottleneck in this research is the paucity of appropriate behavioral screening paradigms, which may be due to the relatively uncharacterized nature of the behavior of this species. Here we show that zebrafish exhibit good learning performance in a task adapted from the mammalian literature, a plus maze in which zebrafish are required to associate a neutral visual stimulus with the presence of conspecifics, the rewarding unconditioned stimulus. Furthermore, we show that MK-801, a non-competitive NMDA-R antagonist, impairs memory performance in this maze when administered right after training or just before recall but not when given before training at a dose that does not impair motor function, perception or motivation. These results suggest that the plus maze associative learning paradigm has face and construct validity and that zebrafish may become an appropriate and translationally relevant study species for the analysis of the mechanisms of vertebrate, including mammalian, learning and memory.
PMCID: PMC3148332  PMID: 21596149
learning and memory; acquisition; consolidation; recall; visual discrimination; NMDA-R; MK-801 dizocilpine; zebrafish

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