Subchronic effects of plant alkaloids on anxiety-like behavior in zebrafish

Authored by  A Hawkey*, J Hoeng, M Peitsch, E Levin*, K Koshibu

Published in Pharmacology Biochemistry Behavior    
* This author is not affiliated with PMI.

Zebrafish provide a valuable emerging complementary model for neurobehavioral research. They offer a powerful way to screen for the potential therapeutic effects of neuroactive drugs. A variety of behavioral tests for zebrafish have been developed and validated for assessing neurobehavioral function. The novel tank diving test is a straightforward, reproducible way of measuring anxiety-like behavior in zebrafish. When introduced into a novel tank, zebrafish normally dive to the bottom of the tank and then gradually explore the higher levels of the water column as time progresses. Buspirone is an effective anxiolytic drug in humans, which has been found, with acute administration, to reduce this anxiety-like response in zebrafish. The current study used the zebrafish model to evaluate the potential anxiolytic effects of alkaloids, commonly found in Solanaceae plants, with known neuropharmacology relevant to mood regulation. In line with previous findings, acute treatment with anxiolytic positive controls buspirone and the plant alkaloid nicotine reduced the anxiety-like diving response in the zebrafish novel tank diving test. Further, both buspirone and nicotine continued to produce anxiolytic-like effects in zebrafish after 5 days of exposure. In the same treatment paradigm, the effects of five other alkaloids—cotinine, anatabine, anabasine, harmane, and norharmane—were investigated. Cotinine, the major metabolite of nicotine, also caused anxiolytic-like effects, albeit at a dose higher than the effective dose of nicotine. Nicotine's anxiolytic-like effect was not shared by the other nicotinic alkaloids, anabasine and anatabine, or by the naturally present monoamine oxidase inhibitors harmane and norharmane. We conclude that nicotine uniquely induces anxiolytic-like effects after acute and subchronic treatment in zebrafish. The zebrafish model with the novel tank diving test could be a useful complement to rodent models for screening candidate compounds for anxiolytic effects in nonclinical studies.