Palanca, A.M., and Sagasti, A. (2013) Optogenetic Activation of Zebrafish Somatosensory Neurons using ChEF-tdTomato. Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE. (71):e50184.
Larval zebrafish are emerging as a model for describing the development and function of simple neural circuits. Due to their external fertilization, rapid development, and translucency, zebrafish are particularly well suited for optogenetic approaches to investigate neural circuit function. In this approach, light-sensitive ion channels are expressed in specific neurons, enabling the experimenter to activate or inhibit them at will and thus assess their contribution to specific behaviors. Applying these methods in larval zebrafish is conceptually simple but requires the optimization of technical details. Here we demonstrate a procedure for expressing a channelrhodopsin variant in larval zebrafish somatosensory neurons, photo-activating single cells, and recording the resulting behaviors. By introducing a few modifications to previously established methods, this approach could be used to elicit behavioral responses from single neurons activated up to at least 4 days post-fertilization (dpf). Specifically, we created a transgene using a somatosensory neuron enhancer, CREST3, to drive the expression of the tagged channelrhodopsin variant, ChEF-tdTomato. Injecting this transgene into 1-cell stage embryos results in mosaic expression in somatosensory neurons, which can be imaged with confocal microscopy. Illuminating identified cells in these animals with light from a 473 nm DPSS laser, guided through a fiber optic cable, elicits behaviors that can be recorded with a high-speed video camera and analyzed quantitatively. This technique could be adapted to study behaviors elicited by activating any zebrafish neuron. Combining this approach with genetic or pharmacological perturbations will be a powerful way to investigate circuit formation and function.
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