Design and development of a robotic predator as a stimulus in conditioned place aversion for the study of the effect of ethanol and citalopram in zebrafish

Romain J.G. Clément, Simone Macrì, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Zebrafish are becoming a species of choice in psychopharmacology, laying a promising path to refined pharmacological manipulations and high-throughput behavioral phenotyping. The field of robotics has the potential to accelerate progress along this path, by offering unprecedented means for the design and development of accurate and reliable experimental stimuli. In this work, we demonstrate, for the first time, the integration of robotic predators in place conditioning experiments. We hypothesized zebrafish to be capable of forming a spatial association under a simulated predation risk. We repeatedly exposed experimental subjects to a robotic heron impacting the water surface and then evaluated their spatial avoidance within the experimental tank in a subsequent predator-free test session. To pharmacologically validate the paradigm, we tested zebrafish in drug-free conditions (control groups) or in response to three different concentrations of citalopram (30, 50, and 100 mg/L) and ethanol (0.25, 0.50, and 1.00%). Experimental data indicate that, when tested in the absence of the conditioning stimulus, zebrafish displayed a marked preference for the bottom of the test tank, that is, the farthest location from the simulated attacks by the robotic heron. This conditioned geotaxis was reduced by the administration of citalopram in a linear dose-response curve and ethanol at the low concentration. Ultimately, our data demonstrate that robotic stimuli may represent valid conditioning tools and, thereby, aid the field of zebrafish psychopharmacology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112256
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019



  • Citalopram
  • Conditioned place aversion aversion
  • Danio rerio
  • Ethanol
  • Ethorobotics
  • Predation risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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