Neuroscience & Behavior


Behavioral Phenomics Group

Behaviors are accessible readouts of the molecular pathways that control neuronal signaling.  Our group develops tools and techniques for comprehensive and high-throughput behavioral phenotyping in the zebrafish.  These tools have great potential to improve our understanding of neuronal signaling and may accelerate the pace of neuroactive drug discovery.

Kokel et. al. Nat Chem Biol. 2010 Mar;6(3):231-237
Rihel et al. Science. 2010 Jan 15;327(5963):385-51
Laggner et al. Nat Chem Biol. 2011 Dec 18;8(2):144-6



Over the years, zebrafish have exhibited addictive characteristics to drugs of abuse. Among which are opioids, which have been administered to fish in non-contingent assays, such as conditioned place-preference, while contingent assays have been somewhat limited. Using inexpensive electronic, mechanical, and optical components, the Peterson Lab has developed an automated opioid self-administration assay for zebrafish, which enables us to measure drug seeking behaviors and ultimately gain greater insight into the underlying biological pathways of addiction.    


A recent project in the lab focuses on better understanding important neurobiological pathways involved in depression, specifically pathways that regulate serotonin levels in the nervous system. Although still in its early stages, by treating larvae with known clinical depressants such as the drug, Reserpine, the ultimate goal is to screen for new molecules that could counter the effects of such depressants and serve as potential therapeutic candidates.

Anxiety and Stress Response

Humans and many animals show 'freezing' behavior in response to threatening stimuli. In humans, inappropriate threat responses are fundamental characteristics of several mental illnesses. To identify small molecules that modulate threat responses, the Peterson Lab has developed a high-throughput behavioral assay in zebrafish which has allowed us to evaluate approximately 10,000 compounds for their effects on freezing behavior. Remarkably, We found three classes of compounds that switch the threat response from freezing to escape-like behavior.

Rennekamp et al., Nature Chemical Biology, 2016



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