Comparative behavioral toxicology with two common larval fish models: Exploring relationships among modes of action and locomotor responses


Behavioral responses inform toxicology studies by rapidly and sensitively detecting molecular initiation events that propagate to physiological changes in individuals. These behavioral responses can be unique to chemical specific mechanisms and modes of action (MOA) and thus present diagnostic utility. In an initial effort to explore the use of larval fish behavioral response patterns in screening environmental contaminants for toxicity and to identify behavioral responses associated with common chemical specific MOAs, we employed the two most common fish models, the zebrafish and the fathead minnow, to define toxicant induced swimming activity alterations during interchanging photoperiods. Though the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) is a common model for aquatic toxicology research and regulatory toxicology practice, this model has received little attention in behavioral studies compared to the zebrafish, a common biomedical model. We specifically compared behavioral responses among 7 different chemicals (1-heptanol, phenol, R-(-)-carvone, citalopram, diazinon, pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), and xylazine) that were selected and classified based on anticipated MOA (nonpolar narcosis, polar narcosis, electrophile, specific mechanism) according to traditional approaches to examine whether these comparative responses differ among chemicals with various structure-based predicted toxicity. Following standardized experimental guidelines, zebrafish embryos and fathead minnow larvae were exposed for 96 h to each compound then were observed using digital behavioral analysis. Behavioral observations included photomotor responses, distance traveled, and stimulatory, refractory and cruising locomotor activity. Though fathead minnow larvae displayed greater behavioral sensitivity to 1-heptanol, phenol and citalopram, zebrafish were more sensitive to diazinon and R-(-)-carvone. Both fish models were equally sensitive to xylazine and PTZ. Further, the pharmaceuticals citalopram and xylazine significantly affected behavior at therapeutic hazard values, and each of the seven chemicals elicited unique behavioral response profiles. Larval fish behaviors appear useful as early tier diagnostics to identify mechanisms and pathways associated with diverse biological activities for chemicals lacking mechanistic data.


High throughput screening; Behavior; Alternative toxicity testing; Chemical bioactivity; Comparative toxicology