Toward developmental models of psychiatric disorders in zebrafish
Psychiatric disorders are a diverse set of diseases that affect all aspects of mental function including social interaction, thinking, feeling, and mood. Although psychiatric disorders place a large economic burden on society, the drugs available to treat them are often palliative with variable efficacy and intolerable side-effects. The development of novel drugs has been hindered by a lack of knowledge about the etiology of these diseases. It is thus necessary to further investigate psychiatric disorders using a combination of human molecular genetics, gene-by-environment studies, in vitro pharmacological and biochemistry experiments, animal models, and investigation of the non-biological basis of these diseases, such as environmental effects. Many psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, and schizophrenia can be triggered by alterations to neural development. The zebrafish is a popular model for developmental biology that is increasingly used to study human disease. Recent work has extended this approach to examine psychiatric disorders as well. However, since psychiatric disorders affect complex mental functions that might be human specific, it is not possible to fully model them in fish. In this review, I will propose that the suitability of zebrafish for developmental studies, and the genetic tools available to manipulate them, provide a powerful model to study the roles of genes that are linked to psychiatric disorders during neural development. The relative speed and ease of conducting experiments in zebrafish can be used to address two areas of future research: the contribution of environmental factors to disease onset, and screening for novel therapeutic compounds.