Similar anxiolytic effects of agonists targeting serotonin 5-HT1A or cannabinoid CB receptors on zebrafish behavior in novel environments

Kristin A. Connors, Theodore W. Valenti, Kelly Lawless, James Sackerman, Emmanuel S. Onaivi, Bryan W. Brooks, Georgianna G. Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The discovery that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine are present and bioaccumulate in aquatic ecosystems have spurred studies of fish serotonin transporters (SERTs) and changes in SSRI-sensitive behaviors as adverse outcomes relevant for risk assessment. Many SSRIs also act at serotonin 5-HT1A receptors. Since capitalizing on this action may improve treatments of clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders, novel multimodal drugs that agonize 5-HT1A and block SERT were introduced. In mammals both 5-HT1A and CB agonists, such as buspirone and WIN55,212-2, reduce anxious behaviors. Immunological and behavioral evidence suggests that 5-HT1A-like receptors may function similarly in zebrafish (Danio rerio), yet their pharmacological properties are not well characterized. Herein we compared the density of [3H] 8-hydroxy-2-di-n-propylamino tetralin (8-OH-DPAT) binding to 5-HT1A-like sites in the zebrafish brain, to that of similarly Gαi/o-coupled cannabinoid receptors. [3H] 8-OH-DPAT specific binding was 176±8, 275±32, and 230±36fmol/mg protein in the hypothalamus, optic tectum, and telencephalon. [3H] WIN55,212-2 binding density was higher in those same brain regions at 6±0.3, 5.5±0.4 and 7.3±0.3pm/mg protein. The aquatic light-dark plus maze was used to examine behavioral effects of 5-HT1A and CB receptor agonists on zebrafish novelty-based anxiety. With acute exposure to the 5-HT1A partial-agonist buspirone (50mg/L), or dietary exposure to WIN55,212-2 (7μg/week) zebrafish spent more time in and/or entered white arms more often than controls (p<0.05). Acute exposure to WIN55,212-2 at 0.5-50mg/L reduced mobility. These behavioral findings suggest that azipirones, like cannabinoid agonists, have anxiolytic and/or sedative properties on fish in novel environments. These observations highlight the need to consider potential ecological risks of azapirones and multimodal antidepressants in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-113
Number of pages9
JournalAquatic Toxicology
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Anxiety
  • Aquatic exposure
  • Autoradiography
  • Cannabinoid
  • Gαi/o coupled receptors
  • Inhibition
  • Light/dark preference
  • Scototaxis
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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