Martini, A., Huysseune, A., Witten, P. E. et al. 2021. Plasticity of the skeleton and skeletal deformities in zebrafish (Danio rerio) linked to rearing density. Journal of Fish Biology 98(4), 971-986.

The teleost zebrafish (Danio rerio), an established model for human skeletal diseases, is reared under controlled conditions with defined parameters for temperature and photoperiod. Studies aimed at defining the proper rearing density have been performed with regard to behavioural and physiological stress response, sex ratio and reproduction. Studies concerning the effect of rearing density on the skeletal phenotype are lacking. This study analyses the response of the skeleton to different rearing densities and describes the skeletal deformities. Wild-type zebrafish were reared up to 30 dpf (days post-fertilization) in a common environment. From 30 to 90 dpf, animals were reared at three different densities: high density (HD), 32 fish l–1; medium density (MD), 8 fish l–1 and low density (LD), 2 fish l–1. Animals at 30 and 90 dpf were collected and whole-mount stained with Alizarin red S to visualize mineralized tissues. The entire skeleton was analysed for meristic counts and 172 types of deformities. The results showed that the rearing density significantly influenced the specimens’ average standard length, which decreased with the increase in the rearing density. Differences in meristic counts among the three groups were not observed. Rearing density–independent malformations affected the ribs, neural arches and the spines of the abdominal region, as well as vertebrae of the caudal complex. The HD group showed the highest number of deformities per specimen, the highest number of observed types of deformities and, together with the MD group, the highest frequency of specimens affected by severe deformities. In particular, the HD group showed deformities affecting arches, spines and vertebral centra in the caudal region of the vertebral column. This study provides evidence of an effect of the rearing density on the development of different skeletal phenotypes.

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