HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

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Defense Date


Document Type

Thesis - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Richard E. Spieler

Second Advisor

Jose V. Lopez

Third Advisor

Joe Huston


The zebrafish (Danio rerio) promises to meet the growing needs of gerontological and neurobehavioral research by possessing highly conserved anatomy and physiology with all other vertebrates, while having low maintenance costs and requiring only simple care. The neurological and physiological bases of learning, memory formation, and memory retention have been studied in a variety of model organisms, such as the rat, mouse, sheep, and several teleost fishes, the notable example being the zebrafish. Unfortunately, most of these animals are poorly suited to senescence research due to costs, care requirements, or long life spans. My research expands upon our rapidly growing understanding of zebrafish neurobiology, learning processes, sensory modalities, and memory retention.

Two pairs of distinct aversive conditioning experiments using classic shuttlebox designs compared the effects of sensory modality and conditioned-unconditioned stimulus (CS-US) intervals, the time delay between application of conditioned sensory stimulus and delivery of the stressful unconditioned stimulus in the event of failure to avoid it, upon memory formation and retention. These studies yielded a general spectrum of results against which future conditioning studies may be compared. Both visual and olfactory stimuli were tested, as were 10 second and 15 second CS-US intervals. Successes were scored when the fish crossed the shuttlebox hurtle within the CS-US interval, thereby avoiding the negative unconditioned stimulus. After a three-month delay, ten additional trials were conducted to compare the long-term memory retention resulting from each protocol.

When testing a 15s CS-US interval, olfactory conditioning was significantly more likely (39%) to produce a successful outcome (memory formation) than visual conditioning. Grouped results reveal that the second pair of experiments, each with a 10s CS-US interval, yielded significantly more successful memory formation than a 15s CS-US interval. A significant difference was found when comparing the results of any two experiments, except between the results of the visual and olfactory 10s interval experiments). Only the olfactory experiment using a 15s CS-US interval yielded memory retention results significantly higher than the mean of memory retention results from the four experiments.

These findings offer inconclusive evidence supporting olfaction’s strong role in memory formation and retention in zebrafish. The results expand our understanding of the relationship between the olfactory and visual senses and memory in the zebrafish and indicate the olfactory sense’s key role in vertebrate neurobiology, warranting further research into the effects of aging on the olfactory-memory modality.

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