Chronic unpredictable early-life stress (CUELS) protocol: Early-life stress changes anxiety levels of adult zebrafish

Barbara D. Fontana, Alistair J. Gibbon, Madeleine Cleal, William H. J. Norton, Matthew O. Parker

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Early-life stress can lead to two different behavioral responses: (1) increased susceptibility to psychiatric disorders or (2) resilience. Here, we created a chronic unpredictable early-life stress (CUELS) protocol to assess the effects of early experiences in adult zebrafish. Animals were exposed to mild stressors twice a day and the duration was varied between groups (0, 1, 3, 7 and 14 days of stress). The stressor consisted of light/dark cycle changes; social isolation; overcrowding; water changes; water cooling; mechanical stirring; water heating; and immersion in shallow water. Behavior was assessed at young stages (21 days post-fertilization – open field analysis) and adulthood (4-months-old - novel tank diving test, light/dark task, shoaling, free movement pattern Y-maze and Pavlovian fear conditioning). Cortisol levels were assessed to evaluate the impact of CUELS in the HPA axis. Zebrafish exposed to 7 days of CUELS showed a decreased anxiety-like phenotype in two behavioral tasks, presenting increased time spent in top and decreased time spent in the dark area. Animals exposed to 14 days of CUELS showed an opposite anxious phenotype compared to 3 and 7 days of CUELS. No significant changes were observed in memory and cognition, social behavior and cortisol levels. In general, 7 days of CUELS protocol decreased anxiety in young and adult zebrafish, and could be used to understand the mechanisms underlying early-life experiences-derived alterations in neural circuits of anxiety.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110087
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Early online date2 Sept 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 2 Sept 2020


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