The influence of complex and threatening environments in early life on brain size and behaviour

C. De Pasquale, T. Neuberger, A. M. Hirrlinger, V. A. Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The ways in which challenging environments during development shape the brain and behaviour are increasingly being addressed. To date, studies typically consider only single variables, but the real world ismore complex.Many factors simultaneously affect the brain and behaviour, and whether these work independently or interact remains untested. To address this, zebrafish (Danio rerio) were reared in a two-by-two design in housing that varied in structural complexity and/or exposure to a stressor. Fish experiencing both complexity (enrichment objects changed over time) and mild stress (daily net chasing) exhibited enhanced learning and were less anxious when tested as juveniles (between 77 and 90 days). Adults tested (aged 1 year) were also less anxious even though fish were kept in standard housing after three months of age (i.e. no chasing or enrichment).Volumetricmeasures of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that complexity alone generated fish with a larger brain, but this increase in size was not seen in fish that experienced both complexity and chasing, or chasing alone. The results highlight the importance of looking at multiple variables simultaneously, and reveal differential effects of complexity and stressful experiences during development of the brain and behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20152564
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1823
StatePublished - Jan 27 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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