Rods Contribute to Visual Behavior in Larval Zebrafish


Purpose: Although zebrafish rods begin to develop as early as 2 days postfertilization (dpf), they are not deemed anatomically mature and functional until 15 to 21 dpf. A recent study detected a small electroretinogram (ERG) from rods in a cone mutant called no optokinetic response f (nof) at 5 dpf, suggesting that young rods are functional. Whether they can mediate behavioral responses in larvae is unknown.

Methods: We first confirmed rod function by measuring nof ERGs under photopic and scotopic illumination at 6 dpf. We evaluated the role of rods in visual behaviors using two different assays: the visual-motor response (VMR) and optokinetic response (OKR). We measured responses from wild-type (WT) larvae and nof mutants under photopic and scotopic illuminations at 6 dpf.

Results: Nof mutants lacked a photopic ERG. However, after prolonged dark adaptation, they displayed scotopic ERGs. Compared with WT larvae, the nof mutants displayed reduced VMRs. The VMR difference during light onset gradually diminished with decreased illumination and became nearly identical at lower light intensities. Additionally, light-adapted nof mutants did not display an OKR, whereas dark-adapted nof mutants displayed scotopic OKRs.

Conclusions: Because the nof mutants lacked a photopic ERG but displayed scotopic ERGs after dark adaptation, the mutants clearly had functional rods. WT larvae and the nof mutants displayed comparable scotopic light-On VMRs and scotopic OKRs after dark adaptation, suggesting that these responses were driven primarily by rods. Together, these observations indicate that rods contribute to zebrafish visual behaviors as early as 6 dpf.


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