Simmich, J., Staykov, E., and Scott, E. (2012) Zebrafish as an appealing model for optogenetic studies. Progress in brain research. 196:145-162.
Optogenetics, the use of light-based protein tools, has begun to revolutionize biological research. The approach has proven especially useful in the nervous system, where light has been used both to detect and to manipulate activity in targeted neurons. Optogenetic tools have been deployed in systems ranging from cultured cells to primates, with each offering a particular combination of advantages and drawbacks. In this chapter, we provide an overview of optogenetics in zebrafish. Two of the greatest attributes of the zebrafish model system are external fertilization and transparency in early life stages. Combined, these allow researchers to observe the internal structures of developing zebrafish embryos and larvae without dissections or other interference. This transparency, combined with the animals’ small size, simple husbandry, and similarity to mammals in many structures and processes, has made zebrafish a particularly popular model system in developmental biology. The easy optical access also dovetails with optogenetic tools, allowing their use in intact, developing, and behaving animals. This means that optogenetic studies in embryonic and larval zebrafish can be carried out in a high-throughput fashion with relatively simple equipment. As a consequence, zebrafish have been an important proving ground for optogenetic tools and approaches and have already yielded important new knowledge about the neural circuits underlying behavior. Here, we provide a general introduction to zebrafish as a model system for optogenetics. Through descriptions and analyses of important optogenetic studies that have been done in zebrafish, we highlight the advantages and liabilities that the system brings to optogenetic experiments.
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