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Research has recently demonstrated that larval zebrafish show similar molecular responses to nociception to those of adults. Our study explored whether unprotected larval zebrafish exhibited altered behaviour after exposure to noxious chemicals and screened a range of analgesic drugs to determine their efficacy to reduce these responses. This approach aimed to validate larval zebrafish as a reliable replacement for adults as well as providing a high-throughput means of analysing behavioural responses. Zebrafish at 5 days postfertilization were exposed to known noxious stimuli: acetic acid (0.01%, 0.1% and 0.25%) and citric acid (0.1%, 1% and 5%). The behavioural response of each was recorded and analysed using novel tracking software that measures time spent active in 25 larvae at one time. Subsequently, the efficacy of aspirin, lidocaine, morphine and flunixin as analgesics after exposure to 0.1% acetic acid was tested. Larvae exposed to 0.1% and 0.25% acetic acid spent less time active, whereas those exposed to 0.01% acetic acid and 0.1–5% citric acid showed an increase in swimming activity. Administration of 2.5 mg l−1 aspirin, 5 mg l−1 lidocaine and 48 mg l−1 morphine prevented the behavioural changes induced by acetic acid. These results suggest that larvae respond to a noxious challenge in a similar way to adult zebrafish and other vertebrates and that the effect of nociception on activity can be ameliorated by using analgesics. Therefore, adopting larval zebrafish could represent a direct replacement of a protected adult fish with a non-protected form in pain- and nociception-related research.


© 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd