Monitoring Tectal Neuronal Activities and Motor Behavior in Zebrafish Larvae
To understand how visuomotor behaviors are controlled by the nervous system, it is necessary to monitor the activity of large populations of neurons with single-cell resolution over a large area of the brain in a relatively simple, behaving organism. The zebrafish larva, a small lower vertebrate with transparent skin, serves as an excellent model for this purpose. Immediately after the larva hatches, it needs to catch prey and avoid predators. This strong evolutionary pressure leads to the rapid development of functional sensory systems, particularly vision. By 5 d postfertilization (dpf), tectal cells show distinct visually evoked patterns of activation, and the larvae are able to perform a variety of visuomotor behaviors. During the early larval stage, zebrafish breathe mainly through the skin and can be restrained under the microscope using a drop of low-melting-point agarose, without the use of anesthetics. Moreover, the transparency of the skin, the small diameter of the neurons (4–5 µm), and the high-neuronal density enable the use of in vivo noninvasive imaging techniques to monitor neuronal activities of up to ~500 cells within the central nervous system, still with single-cell resolution. This article describes a method for simultaneously monitoring spontaneous and visually evoked activities of large populations of neurons in the optic tectum of the zebrafish larva, using a synthetic calcium dye (Oregon Green BAPTA-1 AM) and a conventional confocal or two-photon scanning fluorescence microscope, together with a method for measuring the tail motor behavior of the head-immobilized zebrafish larva.
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