The zebrafish histamine H3 receptor modulates aggression, neural activity and forebrain functional connectivity



Aggression is a behavioural trait characterized by the intention to harm others for offensive or defensive purposes. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are important mediators of aggression. However, the physiological role of the histaminergic system during this behaviour is currently unclear. Here, we aimed to better understand histaminergic signalling during aggression by characterizing the involvement of the histamine H3 receptor (Hrh3).


We have generated a novel zebrafish Hrh3 null mutant line using CRISPRCas9 genome engineering and investigated behavioural changes and alterations to neural activity using whole brain Ca2+ imaging in zebrafish larvae and ribosomal protein S6 (rpS6) immunohistochemistry in adults.


We show that genetic inactivation of the histamine H3 receptor (Hrh3) reduces aggression in zebrafish, an effect that can be reproduced by pharmacological inhibition. In addition, hrh3−/− zebrafish show behavioural impairments consistent with heightened anxiety. Larval in vivo whole brain Ca2+ imaging reveals higher neuronal activity in the forebrain of mutants, but lower activity in specific hindbrain areas and changes in measures of functional connectivity between subregions. Adult hrh3−/− zebrafish display brain region-specific neural activity changes in response to aggression of both key regions of the social decision-making network, and the areas containing histaminergic neurons in the zebrafish brain.


These results highlight the importance of zebrafish Hrh3 signalling for aggression and anxiety and uncover the brain areas involved. Targeting this receptor might be a potential novel therapeutic route for human conditions characterized by heightened aggression.