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Modulating the Zebrafish Camouflage Response Pathway to Illustrate Neuroendocrine Control Over a Robust and Quantifiable Behavior

Authors
  • Prakash, Brooke A.
  • Toro, Cecilia Phillips
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education
Publisher
Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience
Publication Date
Dec 21, 2019
Volume
18
Issue
1
Identifiers
PMID: 31983901
PMCID: PMC6973300
Source
PubMed Central
Keywords
License
Unknown

Abstract

Zebrafish detect the light levels of their surroundings and adjust their coloration in response. By controlling the location of melanosome pigment granules within melanocytes in their dermis, fish can lighten or darken their appearance to blend in with their environment. This camouflage response pathway, which begins in the retina and ends in the melanocyte, involves both neuronal and endocrine signaling. Ultimately, two hormones, α-melanocyte stimulating hormone and melanin concentrating hormone, converge on the melanocyte and cause dispersion or aggregation of melanosomes, respectively; the camouflage behavior can therefore be modulated both environmentally and pharmacologically. Here, we describe a two-part protocol designed for use in an undergraduate laboratory. Students induce the camouflage response by exposing zebrafish larvae to darkness or bright light, in conjunction with pharmacological treatments that alter the ability of the larvae to properly respond to these environmental cues. Students then fix the larvae, take photographs of their samples using their smartphones and dissecting microscopes, and directly measure the camouflage response by quantifying the size of melanocytes using ImageJ software. Finally, students present their data in a single professional-quality figure with an accompanying detailed figure legend. This protocol enables students to gain unique laboratory experiences in which they modulate and quantify a hormone-driven behavior, observable on a cellular level. It can therefore complement course topics in neurobiology, endocrinology, animal physiology, animal behavior, and cell biology classes.

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