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Behav Brain Res. 2010 Jan 20;206(2):208-15. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.09.019. Epub 2009 Sep 16.

Early differences in epithalamic left-right asymmetry influence lateralization and personality of adult zebrafish.

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Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, ZIP code I-35131, Padova, Italy.


The habenulae are part of an evolutionary conserved conduction system that connects the limbic forebrain areas with midbrain structures and is implicated in important functions such as feeding, mating, avoidance learning, and hormonal response to stress. Very early during zebrafish neurogenesis the parapineal organ migrates near to one habenula, commonly the left, inducing wide left-right habenular asymmetries in gene expression and connectivity. It was posited that this initial symmetry-breaking event determines the development of lateralized brain functions and early differences in epithalamic left-right asymmetry give rise to individual variation in coping styles and personality. We tested these two hypotheses by sorting zebrafish with left or right parapineal at birth using a foxD3:GFP marker and by measuring visual and motor laterality and three personality dimensions as they become adults. Significant differences between fish with opposite parapineal position were found in all laterality tests while the influence of asymmetry of the habenulae on personality was more complex. Fish with atypical right parapineal position, tended to be bolder when inspecting a predator, spent less time in the peripheral portion of an open field and covered a shorter distance when released in the dark. Activity in the open field was not associated to anatomical asymmetry but correlated with laterality of predator inspection that in turn was influenced by parapineal position. One personality dimension, sociality, appeared uncorrelated to both anatomical and functional asymmetries and was instead influenced by the sex of the fish, thus suggesting that other factors, i.e. hormonal, may be implicated in its development.

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