Zebrafish could hold the key to understanding psychiatric disorders

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London have shown that zebrafish could be used to study the underlying causes of psychiatric disorders.

The study, published online in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, found zebrafish can modify their behaviour in response to varying situations.

Dr Caroline Brennan, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who led the study, said: "Zebrafish are becoming one of the most useful animal models for studying the developmental underlying many psychiatric disorders; they breed prolifically and we have many new and exciting techniques that allow us to explore their genetic make-up in the laboratory."

The scientists took 15 zebrafish through a series of experiments involving colour choice to test aspects of behaviour associated with .

The fish were given a choice between two colours - they learnt to choose one of the colours which gave them food. The colours were then reversed and they learnt to change their colour choice.

The scientists then introduced a new set of colours and started the process again. The fish were able to change their behaviour accordingly, learning the new set of colours much faster than the original set, a process psychologists call 'behavioural flexibility'.

The research challenges previous studies which suggested fish were unable to elicit behavioural flexibility, unlike mammals and humans, because they didn't have a .

"Problems with behavioural flexibility, and general deficits in attention, are key symptoms displayed by people suffering a variety of psychological disorders related to , such as , attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some ," Dr Brennan said.

"The results of our study suggest that there may be a role for zebrafish in the future as a useful comparative model to study the cause and prognosis of some of these disorders."

Zebrafish are often used by neuroscientists to explore mechanisms controlling behaviour and in the search for new compounds to treat behavioural disease such as addiction, attention deficit disorders or autism. This study adds further weight to the argument for using zebrafish in the study of these disorders and conditions.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

12 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments