The inhibitory avoidance paradigm allows the study of mechanisms underlying learning and memory formation in zebrafish (Danio rerio Hamilton). For zebrafish, the physiology and behavior associated with this paradigm are as yet poorly understood. We therefore assessed the effects of environmental enrichment and fish age on inhibitory avoidance learning. Fish raised in an environmentally enriched tank showed decreased anxiety-like behavior and increased exploration. Enrichment greatly reduced inhibitory avoidance in 6-month (6M)- and 12-month (12M)-old fish. Following inhibitory avoidance, telencephalic mRNA levels of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (pcna), neurogenic differentiation (neurod), cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript 4 (cart4), and cannabinoid receptor 1 (cnr1) were lower in enriched-housed fish, while the ratios of mineralocorticoid receptor (nr3c2)/glucocorticoid receptor a [nr3c1(a)] and glucocorticoid receptor ß [nr3c1(ß)]/glucocorticoid receptor a [nr3c1(a)] were higher. This was observed for 6M-old fish only, not for 24-month (24M) old fish. Instead, 24M-old fish showed delayed inhibitory avoidance, no effects of enrichment, and reduced expression of neuroplasticity genes. Overall, our data show strong differences in inhibitory avoidance behavior between zebrafish of different ages and a clear reduction in avoidance behavior following housing under environmental enrichment.
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