Changes in thyroid hormone activity disrupt photomotor behavior of larval zebrafish

Kyla M. Walter, Galen W. Miller, Xiaopeng Chen, Danielle J. Harvey, Birgit Puschner, Pamela J. Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


High throughput in vitro, in silico, and computational approaches have identified numerous environmental chemicals that interfere with thyroid hormone (TH) activity, and it is posited that human exposures to such chemicals are a contributing factor to neurodevelopmental disorders. However, whether hits in screens of TH activity are predictive of developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) has yet to be systematically addressed. The zebrafish has been proposed as a second tier model for assessing the in vivo DNT potential of TH active chemicals. As an initial evaluation of the feasibility of this proposal, we determined whether an endpoint often used to assess DNT in larval zebrafish, specifically photomotor behavior, is altered by experimentally induced hyper- and hypothyroidism. Developmental hyperthyroidism was simulated by static waterborne exposure of zebrafish to varying concentrations (3–300 nM) of thyroxine (T4) or triiodothyronine (T3) beginning at 6 h post-fertilization (hpf) and continuing through 5 days post-fertilization (dpf). Teratogenic effects and lethality were observed at 4 and 5 dpf in fish exposed to T4 or T3 at concentrations >30 nM. However, as early as 3 dpf, T4 (> 3 nM) and T3 (> 10 nM) significantly increased swimming activity triggered by sudden changes from light to dark, particularly during the second dark period (Dark 2). Conversely, developmental hypothyroidism, which was induced by treatment with 6-propyl-2-thiouracil (PTU), morpholino knockdown of the TH transporter mct8, or ablation of thyroid follicles in adult females prior to spawning, generally decreased swimming activity during dark periods, although effects did vary across test days. All effects of developmental hypothyroidism on photomotor behavior occurred independent of teratogenic effects and were most robust during Dark 2. Treatment with the T4 analog, Tetrac, restored photomotor response in mct8 morphants to control levels. Collectively, these findings suggest that while the sensitivity of photomotor behavior in larval zebrafish to detect TH disruption is influenced by test parameters, this test can distinguish between TH promoting and TH blocking activity and may be useful for assessing the DNT potential of TH-active chemicals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-57
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Endocrine disruption
  • Photomotor behavior
  • Teratogenicity
  • Thyroid hormone
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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