Leyden, C., Brüggemann, T., Debinski, F. et al. 2022. Efficacy of tricaine (MS-222) and hypothermia as anesthetic agents for blocking sensorimotor responses in larval zebrafish. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 9, 864573.
Tricaine, or MS-222, is the most commonly used chemical anesthetic in zebrafish research. It is thought to act via blocking voltage-gated sodium channels, though its mechanism of action, particularly at the neuronal level, is not yet fully understood. Here, we first characterized the effects of tricaine on both body balance and touch responses in freely swimming animals, before determining its effect on the neural activity underlying the optokinetic response at the level of motion perception, sensorimotor signaling and the generation of behavior in immobilized animals. We found that the standard dose for larvae (168 mg/L) induced loss of righting reflex within 30 seconds, which then recovered within 3 minutes. Optokinetic behavior recovered within 15 minutes. Calcium imaging showed that tricaine interferes with optokinetic behavior by interruption of the signals between the pretectum and hindbrain. The motion sensitivity indices of identified sensory neurons were unchanged in larvae exposed to tricaine, though fewer such neurons were detected, leaving a small population of active sensory neurons. We then compared tricaine with gradual cooling, a potential non-chemical alternative method of anesthesia. While neuronal tuning appeared to be affected in a similar manner during gradual cooling, gradual cooling induced a surge in calcium levels in both the pretectum and hindbrain. This calcium surge, alongside a drop in heartrate, is potentially associated with harmful changes in physiology and suggests that tricaine is a better anesthetic agent than gradual cooling for zebrafish laboratory research.