Astatotilapia burtoni: A Model System for Analyzing the Neurobiology of Behavior

Karen P. Maruska, Louisiana State University
Russell D. Fernald, Stanford University


© 2018 American Chemical Society. Most biomedical research is performed using a very limited number of "model" species. In part, this has resulted from a combination of full genomes, manipulation of genes, and short generation times in these species. However, the advent of low-cost sequencing and gene editing in any organism has increased the use of nontraditional organisms. Many scientists have paraphrased the adage by Krogh [ Krogh, A. (2018) Science 70, 200-204 ] that for many biological problems some species will prove to be most convenient and useful to study. In particular, using organisms most suited to the specific research question can lead to novel insights about fundamental physiological, neurobiological, immunological, and neuroendocrine systems that can advance our understanding of the well-being and health of humans. In addition, such studies have led to new ideas about the evolution and mechanisms that control social behavior. Fishes constitute about 50% of all vertebrate species and are the most diverse vertebrate radiation. Here we review behavioral and neurobiological discoveries of plasticity in social behavior resulting from analysis of an African cichlid fish, showing how its unique behavioral system has facilitated a broad range of discoveries. For many future questions, Astatotilapia burtoni and other cichlid fishes may be ideally suited to study as we advance our understanding of the neural basis of social decisions.