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Larval zebrafish display dynamic learning of aversive stimuli in a constant visual surrounding


Balancing exploration and anti-predation are fundamental to the fitness and survival of all animal species from early life stages. How these basic survival instincts drive learning remains poorly understood. Here, using a light/dark preference paradigm with well-controlled luminance history and constant visual surrounding in larval zebrafish, we analyzed intra- and intertrial dynamics for two behavioral components, dark avoidance and center avoidance. We uncover that larval zebrafish display short-term learning of dark avoidance with initial sensitization followed by habituation; they also exhibit long-term learning that is sensitive to trial interval length. We further show that such stereotyped learning patterns is stimulus-specific, as they are not observed for center avoidance. Finally, we demonstrate at individual levels that long-term learning is under homeostatic control. Together, our work has established a novel paradigm to understand learning, uncovered sequential sensitization and habituation, and demonstrated stimulus specificity, individuality, as well as dynamicity in learning.

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