This review provides an overview of the assays that are used for measuring escape and avoidance behavior in zebrafish, with a specific focus on zebrafish larvae during the first week of development. Zebrafish larvae display a startle response when exposed to tactile, acoustic, or visual stimuli and will avoid dark areas, moving objects, conspecifics, and open spaces. Emotional states such as fear and anxiety might be induced when larvae are exposed to stimuli that they would normally escape from or avoid. Although these emotional states probably differ between species and change during development, much can be learned about human fear and anxiety using zebrafish as a model system. The molecular mechanisms of fear and anxiety are highly conserved in vertebrates and are present during early zebrafish development. Larvae during the first week of development display elevated cortisol levels in response to stress and are sensitive to the same anxiolytics that are used for the management of anxiety in humans. Zebrafish larvae are well suited for high-throughput analyses of behavior, and automated systems have been developed for imaging and analyzing the behavior of zebrafish larvae in multiwell plates. These high-throughput analyses will not only provide a wealth of information on the genes and environmental factors that influence escape and avoidance behaviors and the emotional states that might accompany them but will also facilitate the discovery of novel pharmaceuticals that could be used in the management of anxiety disorders in humans.
©2011 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin New York