Latent learning in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Luis M Gómez-Laplaza, Robert Gerlai
Behavioural Brain Research 2010 April 2, 208 (2): 509-15
The zebrafish may represent an excellent compromise between system complexity and practical simplicity for behavioral brain research. It may be particularly appropriate for large scale screening studies whose aim is to identify mutants with altered phenotypes or novel compounds with particular efficacy. For example, the zebrafish may have utility in the analysis of the biological mechanisms of learning and memory. Although learning and memory have been extensively studied and hundreds of underlying molecular mechanisms have been identified, this number may represent only the fraction of genes involved in these complex brain functions. Thus large scale mutagenesis screens may have utility. In order for such screens to succeed, appropriate screening paradigms must be developed. The first step in this research is the characterization of learning and memory capabilities of zebrafish and the development of automatable tasks. Here we show that zebrafish is capable of latent learning, i.e. can acquire memory of their environment after being allowed to explore it. For example, we found experimental zebrafish that experienced an open left tunnel or an open right tunnel of a maze during the unrewarded exploration phase of the test to show the appropriate side bias during a probe trial when they had to swim to a group of conspecifics (the reward). Given that exploration of the maze does not require the presence of the experimenter and the probe trial, during which the subjects are video-recorded and their memory is tested, is short, we argue that the paradigm has utility in high-throughput screening.

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