Measuring drug absorption improves interpretation of behavioral responses in a larval zebrafish locomotor assay for predicting seizure liability



Unanticipated effects on the central nervous system are a concern during new drug development. A larval zebrafish locomotor assay can reveal seizure liability of experimental molecules before testing in mammals. Relative absorption of compounds by larvae is lacking in prior reports of such assays; having those data may be valuable for interpreting seizure liability assay performance.


Twenty-eight reference drugs were tested at multiple dose levels in fish water and analyzed by a blinded investigator. Responses of larval zebrafish were quantified during a 30 min dosing period. Predictive metrics were calculated by comparing fish activity to mammalian seizure liability for each drug. Drug level analysis was performed to calculate concentrations in dose solutions and larvae. Fifteen drug candidates with neuronal targets, some having preclinical convulsion findings in mammals, were tested similarly.


The assay has good predictive value of established mammalian responses for reference drugs. Analysis of drug absorption by larval fish revealed a positive correlation between hyperactive behavior and pro-convulsive drug absorption. False negative results were associated with significantly lower compound absorption compared to true negative, or true positive results. The predictive value for preclinical toxicology findings was inferior to that suggested by reference drugs.


Disproportionately low exposures in larvae giving false negative results demonstrate that drug exposure analysis can help interpret results. Due to the rigorous testing commonly performed in preclinical toxicology, predicting convulsions in those studies may be more difficult than predicting effects from marketed drugs.