Zebrafish Lab

How do animals decide what parts of the environment are important - and how do they do it so quickly? Our senses drive our interactions with the world, but our sensory organs produce far more data than could ever be analyzed in full. Further complicating the problem, many sensory stimuli are entirely irrelevant and require no response, and as such survival is best enhanced by attending only to relevant cues. To overcome this sensory bottleneck, the brain evolved methods for directing attention to salient objects without the need for higher-order feedback that is costly when a rapid reaction is required.

While empirically testing the underlying neural mechanisms behind visual attention selection in mammals has been historically challenging due to technical limitations, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) is perhaps an ideal model system for interrogating visual computations.

They exhibit a range of visual behaviors very early in life, possess evolutionarily conserved regions of the brain dedicated to visual computation, and are amenable to  live imaging using genetically encoded fluorescent indicators of neuronal activity. By four days post fertilization, zebrafish larvae begin to pursue and capture prey, requiring the rapid selection of targets and subsequent orienting to the prey. However, the stimulus features governing visual target selection in non-mammalian vertebrates are not fully described. Despite the clear advantages of using zebrafish to study the neural mechanisms of behavior, attentional behavior is poorly studied compared to the vast literature on such topics in primates and other mammals. Therefore, to characterize visual attention we analyze a combination of both naturalistic prey capture behavior and responses to artificial stimuli.
Our zebrafish research group uses novel behavioral experiments, transgenics, and live neuronal imaging to investigate how the brain uses visual information to guide adaptive behavior.

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