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Curr Biol. 2010 Feb 23;20(4):381-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.01.022. Epub 2010 Feb 11.

Distinct retinal pathways drive spatial orientation behaviors in zebrafish navigation.

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Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6058, USA.


Navigation requires animals to adjust ongoing movements in response to pertinent features of the environment and select between competing target cues. The neurobiological basis of navigational behavior in vertebrates is hard to analyze, partly because underlying neural circuits are experience dependent. Phototaxis in zebrafish is a hardwired navigational behavior, performed at a stage when larvae swim by using a small repertoire of stereotyped movements. We established conditions to elicit robust phototaxis behavior and found that zebrafish larvae deploy directional orienting maneuvers and regulate forward swimming speed to navigate toward a target light. Using genetic analysis and targeted laser ablations, we show that retinal ON and OFF pathways play distinct roles during phototaxis. The retinal OFF pathway controls turn movements via retinotectal projections and establishes correct orientation by causing larvae to turn away from nontarget areas. In contrast, the retinal ON pathway activates the serotonergic system to trigger rapid forward swimming toward the target. Computational simulation of phototaxis with an OFF-turn, ON-approach algorithm verifies that our model accounts for key features of phototaxis and provides a simple and robust mechanism for behavioral choice between competing targets.

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