Venlafaxine in embryos stimulates neurogenesis and disrupts larval behavior in zebrafish


Venlafaxine, a widely prescribed antidepressant, is a selective serotonin and norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor in humans, and this drug is prevalent in municipal wastewater effluents. While studies have shown that this drug affects juvenile fish behavior, little is known about the developmental impact on non-target aquatic animals. We tested the hypothesis that venlafaxine deposition in the egg, mimicking maternal transfer of this antidepressant, disrupts developmental programming using zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model. Embryos (1-4 cell stage) were microinjected with either 1 or 10 ng venlafaxine, which led to a rapid reduction (90%) of this drug in the embryo at hatch. There was a concomitant increase in the concentration of the major metabolite o-desmethylvenlafaxine during the same period. Embryonic exposure to venlafaxine accelerated early development, increased hatching rate and produced larger larvae at 5 days post fertilization. Also, there was an increase in neuronal birth in the hypothalamus, dorsal thalamus, posterior tuberculum, and the preoptic region, and this corresponded with a higher spatial expression of nrd4, a key marker of neurogenesis. The venlafaxine-exposed larvae were less active and covered shorter distance in a light and dark behavioural test compared to the controls. Overall, zygotic exposure to venlafaxine disrupts early development, including brain function, and compromises larval behaviour, suggesting impact of this drug on developmental programming in zebrafish.