Good night, sleep tight: The effects of sleep deprivation on spatial associative learning in zebrafish

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Abstract

Learning and memory are vital to an animal’s survival, and numerous factors can disrupt cognitive performance. Sleep is an evolutionarily conserved physiological process known to be important for the consolidation of learning and memory. The zebrafish has emerged as a powerful model organism sharing organizational and functional characteristics with other vertebrates, providing great translational relevance. In our study, we used a simple spatial associative learning task to quantify the effects of sleep deprivation (partial vs. total) on learning performance in zebrafish, using an animated conspecific shoal image as a reward. Control animals maintained on a regular light:dark cycle were able to acquire the association between the unconditioned and conditioned stimulus, reinforcing zebrafish as a valid and reliable model for appetitive conditioning tasks. Notably, sleep deprivation did not alter the perception of and response to the conspecific image. In contrast, although partial sleep deprivation did not impair cognitive performance, total sleep deprivation significantly impaired performance on the associative learning task. Our results suggest that sleep is important for learning and memory, and that the effects of sleep deprivation on these processes can be investigated in zebrafish.

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