zebra fish
Original Published Date: 
Friday, July 24, 2020

Full article issued by The University of Queensland.

ARC-supported researchers at The University of Queensland have made an important step forward in linking changes in behaviour to the underlying development of brain circuitry. When zebrafish are learning to hunt fast-moving prey, it is a highly dynamic period in their development. The researchers demonstrated the relationship between improvements in zebrafish’s hunting skills and the development of sensory coding in a part of the brain which responds to visual stimuli.

How refinements in neural circuitry lead to changes in behaviour was still largely a mystery, which Discovery Projects grant recipient Professor Geoff Goodhill from the Queensland Brain Institute and the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Dr Lilach Avitan were keen to solve.

“Neural coding is the study of how neurons represent information—during early development the brain must build neural codes appropriate for survival,” Professor Goodhill said.

“In mammals, knowledge about how neural circuits develop is expanding rapidly, however, little is known about what happens in newborn animals—the impact of early developmental changes in neural coding on behaviour remains largely unknown.”

The researchers studied the hunting activity of newborn zebrafish, using a high speed camera to monitor their movements. As their hunting prowess improved, the researchers checked for changes to their neural coding, using special imaging that could record the activity of many neurons simultaneously. They discovered that the changes in neural coding were correlated so well with changes in behaviour, that they could actually predict the hunting abilities of a fish based on its neural development.

The researchers say that this work is important for understanding both neural coding during normal development, and also for understanding how neural circuit changes in neurodevelopmental disorders cause changes in behaviour. 

Photo credit: 

Image: Pixabay (Public Domain).