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Keywords:

  • inner ear;
  • balance;
  • vestibular system

Abstract

We have determined a critical period for vestibular development in zebrafish by using a bioreactor designed by NASA to simulate microgravity for cells in culture. A critical period is defined as the briefest period of time during development when stimulus deprivation results in long lasting or permanent sensory deficits. Zebrafish eggs were collected within 3 hours of being laid and fertilized. In experiment 1, eggs were placed in the bioreactor at 3, 24, 30, 36, 48, or 72 hours postfertilization (hPF) and maintained in the bioreactor until 96 hPF. In experiment 2, eggs were placed in the bioreactor immediately after they were collected and maintained in the bioreactor until 24, 36, 48, 60, 66, 72, or 96 hPF. Beginning at 96 hPF, all larvae had their vestibulo-ocular reflexes (VOR) evaluated once each day for 5 days. Only larvae that hatched from eggs that were placed in the bioreactor before 30 hPF in experiment 1 or removed from the bioreactor later than 66 hPF in experiment 2 had VOR deficits that persisted for at least 5 days. These data suggest a critical period for vestibular development in the zebrafish that begins before 30 hPF and ends after 66 hPF. To confirm this, zebrafish eggs were placed in the bioreactor at 24 hPF and removed at 72 hPF. VORs were evaluated in these larvae once each day for 5 days beginning at 96 hPF. These larvae had VOR deficits that persisted for at least 5 days. In addition, larvae that had been maintained in the bioreactor from 24 to 66 hPF or from 30 to 72 hPF, had only temporary VOR deficits. In a final experiment, zebrafish eggs were placed in the bioreactor at 3 hPF and removed at 96 hPF but the bioreactor was turned off from 24 hPF to 72 hPF. These larvae had normal VORs when they were removed from the bioreactor at 96 hPF. Taken as a whole, these data support the idea that there is a critical period for functional maturation of the zebrafish vestibular system. The developmental period identified includes the timeframe during which the vestibular primary afferent neurons are born, innervate their central and peripheral targets, and remodel their central projections. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.