Shams, S., Chatterjee, D., Gerlai, R. 2015. Chronic social isolation affects thigmotaxis and whole-brain serotonin levels in adult zebrafish. Behavioral Brain Research 292, 283-87.
The popularity of the zebrafish has been growing in behavioral brain research. Previously utilized mainly in developmental biology and genetics, the zebrafish has turned out to possess a complex behavioral repertoire. For example, it is a highly social species, and individuals form tight groups, a behavior called shoaling. Social isolation induced changes in brain function and behavior have been demonstrated in a variety of laboratory organisms. However, despite its highly social nature, the zebrafish has rarely been utilized in this research area. Here, we investigate the effects of chronic social isolation (lasting 90 days) on locomotor activity and anxiety-related behaviors in an open tank. We also examine the effect of chronic social isolation on levels of whole-brain serotonin and dopamine and their metabolites. We found that long-term social deprivation surprisingly decreased anxiety-related behavious during open-tank testing but had no effect on locomotor activity. We also found that serotonin levels, decreased significantly in socially isolated fish, but levels of dopamine and metabolites of these neurotransmitters 5HIAA and DOPAC, respectively, remained unchanged. Our results imply that the standard high density housing employed in most zebrafish laboratories may not be the optimal way to keep these fish, and open a new avenue towards the analysis of the biological mechanisms of social behavior and of social deprivation induced changes in brain function using this simple vertebrate model organism.