Neurotransmitter map of the asymmetric dorsal habenular nuclei of zebrafish



The role of the habenular nuclei in modulating fear and reward pathways has sparked a renewed interest in this conserved forebrain region. The bilaterally paired habenular nuclei, each consisting of a medial/dorsal and lateral/ventral nucleus, can be further divided into discrete subdomains whose neuronal populations, precise connectivity, and specific functions are not well understood. An added complexity is that the left and right habenulae show pronounced morphological differences in many non-mammalian species. Notably, the dorsal habenulae of larval zebrafish provide a vertebrate genetic model to probe the development and functional significance of brain asymmetry. Previous reports have described a number of genes that are expressed in the zebrafish habenulae, either in bilaterally symmetric patterns or more extensively on one side of the brain than the other. The goal of our study was to generate a comprehensive map of the zebrafish dorsal habenular nuclei, by delineating the relationship between gene expression domains, comparing the extent of left–right asymmetry at larval and adult stages, and identifying potentially functional subnuclear regions as defined by neurotransmitter phenotype. Although many aspects of habenular organization appear conserved with rodents, the zebrafish habenulae also possess unique properties that may underlie lateralization of their functions. genesis 52:636–655, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.