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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 Mar;77(3):647-54.

Acute effects of alcohol on larval zebrafish: a genetic system for large-scale screening.

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Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences, Programs in Human Genetics and Biological Sciences, Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0446, USA.


Larval zebrafish are used extensively for developmental genetic studies due to their salient features, such as small size, external development, optical transparency, and accessibility in large numbers. However, their use for the study of drug and alcohol abuse has not been explored. Here we investigated the response of larval zebrafish to acute treatment of alcohol. Our analyses showed that like adults, the larval zebrafish exhibited a dose-dependent locomotor response to ethanol: intermediate doses led to hyperactivity, whereas high doses have a neurodepressive effect resulting in hypoactivity and sedation. Alcohol also induced morphological changes of melanocytes, providing a visible cellular measure of the biological effects of alcohol in vivo. In addition, alcohol induced thigmotaxis behavior (preference for the edge of a compartment). In the behaviors we analyzed, genetic background influenced the locomotor responses to alcohol. The present study demonstrates that larval zebrafish exert a response to the acute treatment of alcohol, which is genetically modifiable. Therefore, the larval zebrafish represent a tractable vertebrate model system for a large-scale genetic analysis of the biological effects of alcohol.

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