The Visually Mediated Social Preference Test: A Novel Technique to Measure Social Behavior and Behavioral Disturbances in Zebrafish
Zebrafish are an emerging model in behavioral neuroscience. They display a wide range of measurable behaviors such as locomotion, aggression, anxiety, learning and memory, and social behavior. In addition, the relative ease of genetic manipulation and the increasing availability of disease models mean that zebrafish have gained in popularity as an animal model for various neurological and psychiatric diseases including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to better characterize social behavior and behavioral abnormalities in zebrafish, we have developed the visually mediated social preference (VMSP) test, a novel assay to measure social preference and social novelty in two consecutive 5-min sessions. Using recording and video tracking, the time spent in different areas of the tank, the time spent immobile, swimming speed, and distance moved can be easily measured and analyzed. Untreated experimentally naive AB WT zebrafish typically show a strong preference for spending time near and interacting with a compartment containing unfamiliar conspecifics over the empty compartments during session 1 and a stronger preference for a group of unfamiliar zebrafish over familiar conspecifics from session 1, during session 2 of the test. Research in our lab has shown that the VMSP is suitable to measure the social behavior of individual zebrafish, to uncover social phenotypes of mutant strains, and to better understand animal models of disease that include impaired sociability such as ASD. The current paper provides a step-by-step guide on how to implement and perform this test and highlights important considerations for data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation.
Key wordsSocial behavior Social interaction Social preference Social novelty Zebrafish Autism spectrum disorder
We thank Hector Carreno-Gutierrez, Elisa Dalla Vecchia, and Ceinwen Tilley for the critical reading and comments on the manuscript and Carl Breaker for technical assistance. This work was supported by the Austrian Science Fund (grant number J4090-B29).
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