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Scototaxis as anxiety-like behavior in fish


The scototaxis (dark/light preference) protocol is a behavioral model for fish that is being validated to assess the antianxiety effects of pharmacological agents and the behavioral effects of toxic substances, and to investigate the (epi)genetic bases of anxiety-related behavior. Briefly, a fish is placed in a central compartment of a half-black, half-white tank; following habituation, the fish is allowed to explore the tank for 15 min; the number and duration of entries in each compartment (white or black) are recorded by the observer for the whole session. Zebrafish, goldfish, guppies and tilapias (all species that are important in behavioral neurosciences and neuroethology) have been shown to demonstrate a marked preference for the dark compartment. An increase in white compartment activity (duration and/or entries) should reflect antianxiety behavior, whereas an increase in dark compartment activity should reflect anxiety-promoting behavior. When individual animals are exposed to the apparatus on only one occasion, results can be obtained in 20 min per fish.

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Figure 1: Different species of fish vary in the intensity of their preference for the dark environment, and some species might not present a preference for either dark (black bars) or light (white bars) environments.
Figure 2: Test apparatus for the proposed protocol.


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Part of this research was supported by grants from CAPES to C.A.G.d.M.D. and T.M.d.B. The authors thank the Dark/light Preference Team at the defunct Laboratório de Psicobiologia e Psicopatologia Experimental from Unesp/Bauru for support with data collection.

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C.M. and T.M.d.B. conceived and collected data for most experiments regarding preference for dark environments in the Laboratório de Neurociências e Comportamento and the Laboratório de Comportamento Exploratório, and wrote this paper; C.A.G.d.M.D. conceived the experiments regarding photoperiod and contributed to that section; A.G. and S.M. contributed to sections regarding validity and to the theoretical background related to scototaxis, and also wrote this paper.

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Correspondence to Caio Maximino.

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Maximino, C., Marques de Brito, T., Dias, C. et al. Scototaxis as anxiety-like behavior in fish. Nat Protoc 5, 209–216 (2010).

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