Fontana, B.D., Cleal, M., Norton, W.H.J., & Parker, M.O. (2021). The impact of chronic unpredictable early-life stress (CUELS) on boldness and stress-reactivity: Differential effects of stress duration and context of testing, Physiology & Behavior, 240, 113526.
Early-life stress (ELS) has been shown to result in a diverse array of long-lasting impacts; for example, increasing vulnerability to disease or building ‘resilience’ in adulthood. Previously, zebrafish (Danio rerio) have been used to understand the mechanisms by which ELS induces different behavioral phenotypes in adults, with alterations in both learning and anxiety observed in exposed individuals. Here, we subjected zebrafish larvae to chronic unpredictable early-life stress (CUELS) for 7 or 14 days, to investigate the impact on boldness towards a new environment and novel object, and stress-reactivity. We observed that 7 days of CUELS resulted in increased time spent in the top of a novel tank (indicating boldness) but did not alter approach to a novel object. Although CUELS did not affect stress-reactivity in terms of cortisol levels, decreased anxiety-like response to conspecific alarm substance (CAS) was observed in both ELS groups (7 and 14 days of CUELS). Therefore, for the first time, we observe a potential negative effect of CUELS by dampening the behavioral stress response following exposure to CAS. Overall, these data support the use of zebrafish as a translational model to study the broad range of ELS-induced permanent changes in behavior. It could also be used to investigate the mechanisms underlying both the positive and the negative effects of early-life adversity.
alarm pheromone; conspecific alarm substance; cortisol levels; novel tank; zebrafish