The cognitive and behavioral effects of D-amphetamine and nicotine sensitization in adult zebrafish (2021)

Cleal, M., Fontana, B.D. & Parker, M.O. The cognitive and behavioral effects of D-amphetamine and nicotine sensitization in adult zebrafish. Psychopharmacology (2021).



Zebrafish are growing in use as a model for understanding drug dependence and addiction. Sensitization paradigms have been a useful tool in identifying mechanisms involved in drug-induced behavioral and neurological changes, but in zebrafish have tended to focus on locomotor, rather than cognitive, endpoints.


Here, we used a novel method, the FMP Y-maze, which measures continuous performance through a series of repeated binary choices (L vs R), to establish a model for assessing parameters associated with psychostimulant-induced behavioral and cognitive sensitization in adult zebrafish.


Repeat, intermittent exposure to d-amphetamine (AMPH) for 14 days increased alternations (LRLR) in the maze, suggesting improved working memory, which was enhanced further following drug challenge after a short withdrawal period, suggesting behavioral sensitization. However, this cognitive enhancement coincided with a reduction in the use of other exploration strategies, hypolocomotion, and inhibition of cognitive flexibility. Like AMPH, exposure to nicotine (NIC) increased alternations following drug challenge after chronic treatment. Repeat NIC exposure appeared to induce both cognitive and psychomotor sensitization, as evidenced by increased working memory performance (alternations) and locomotor activity, without negatively impacting other search strategies or cognitive flexibility.


Chronic treatment with AMPH or NIC boosts cognitive performance in adult zebrafish. Cognitive sensitization occurred with both drugs, resulting in enhanced working memory; however, repeat AMPH exposure, following a withdrawal period, resulted in inhibited cognitive flexibility, an effect not evident with repeat NIC exposure. Cognitive and behavioral sensitization paradigms in zebrafish could serve as a useful tool for assessing cognitive states which result in cognitive enhancing or impairing effects of drugs.