Screening for drugs to reduce zebrafish aggression identifies caffeine and sildenafil (2020)

Carreño Gutiérrez, H., Vacca, I., Schoenmacker, G., Cleal, M., Tochwin, A., O'Connor, B., Young, A.M.J., Arias Vasquez, A., Winter, M.J., Parker, M.O., & Norton, W.H.J. (2020). Screening for drugs to reduce zebrafish aggression identifies caffeine and sildenafil. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 30, 17-29.

doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2019.10.005


Although aggression is a common symptom of psychiatric disorders the drugs available to treat it are non-specific and can have unwanted side effects. In this study we have used a behavioural platform in a phenotypic screen to identify drugs that can reduce zebrafish aggression without affecting locomotion. In a three tier screen of ninety-four drugs we discovered that caffeine and sildenafil can selectively reduce aggression. Caffeine also decreased attention and increased impulsivity in the 5-choice serial reaction time task whereas sildenafil showed the opposite effect. Imaging studies revealed that both caffeine and sildenafil are active in the zebrafish brain, with prominent activation of the thalamus and cerebellum evident. They also interact with 5-HT neurotransmitter signalling. In summary, we have demonstrated that juvenile zebrafish are a suitable model to screen for novel drugs to reduce aggression, with the potential to uncover the neural circuits and signalling pathways that mediate such behavioural effects.


zebrafish; aggression; drug screen; behaviour; caffeine; sildenafil