Developmental exposure of zebrafish to vitamin D receptor acting drugs and environmental toxicants disrupts behavioral function.

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Vitamin D receptor (VDR) signaling is important for optimal neurobehavioral development. Disruption of VDR signaling by environmental toxicants during early development might contribute to the etiology of behavioral dysfunction. In the current set of studies, we examined ten compounds known to affect VDR function in vitro for neurobehavioral effects in vivo in zebrafish. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to concentrations of the compounds in their water during the first 5 days post-fertilization. On day 5, the embryos were tested in an alternating light-dark locomotor assay using a computerized video tracking system. We found that most of the compounds produced significant changes in locomotor behavior in exposed zebrafish larvae, although the direction of the effect (i.e., hypo- or hyperactivity) and the sensitivity of the effect to changes in illumination condition varied across the compounds. The nature of the behavioral effects generally corresponded to the effects these compounds have been shown to exert on VDR. These studies lay a foundation for further investigation to determine whether behavioral dysfunction persists into adulthood and if so which behavioral functions are affected. Zebrafish can be useful for screening compounds identified in high throughput in vitro assays to provide an initial test for how those compounds would affect construction and behavioral function of a complex nervous system, helping to bridge the gap between in vitro neurotoxicity assays and mammalian models for risk assessment in humans.





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Oliveri, Anthony N, Lilah Glazer, Debabrata Mahapatra, Seth W Kullman and Edward D Levin (2020). Developmental exposure of zebrafish to vitamin D receptor acting drugs and environmental toxicants disrupts behavioral function. Neurotoxicology and teratology, 81. p. 106902. 10.1016/ Retrieved from

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Edward Daniel Levin

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Levin is Chief of the Neurobehavioral Research Lab in the Psychiatry Department of Duke University Medical Center. His primary academic appointment is as Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He also has secondary appointments in the Department Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. His primary research effort is to understand basic neural interactions underlying cognitive function and addiction and to apply this knowledge to better understand cognitive dysfunction and addiction disorders and to develop novel therapeutic treatments.

The three main research components of his laboratory are focused on the themes of the basic neurobiology of cognition and addiction, neurobehavioral toxicology and the development of novel therapeutic treatments for cognitive dysfunction and substance abuse. Currently, our principal research focus concerns nicotine. We have documented the basic effects of nicotine on learning memory and attention as well as nicotine self-administration. We are continuing with more mechanistic studies in rat models using selective lesions, local infusions and neurotransmitter interaction studies. We have found that nicotine improves memory performance not only in normal rats, but also in rats with lesions of hippocampal and basal forebrain connections. We are concentrating on alpha7 and alpha4beta2 nicotinic receptor subtypes in the hippocampus, amygdala , thalamus and frontal cortex and how they interact with dopamine D1 and D2 and glutamate NMDA systems with regard to memory and addiction. I am also conducting studies on human cognitive behavior. We have current studies to assess nicotine effects on attention, memory and mental processing speed in schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the area of neurobehavioral toxicology, I have continuing projects to characterize the adverse effects of prenatal and adolescent nicotine exposure. Our primary project in neurobehavioral toxicology focuses on the cognitive deficits caused by the marine toxins. The basic and applied aims of our research complement each other nicely. The findings concerning neural mechanisms underlying cognitive function help direct the behavioral toxicology and therapeutic development studies, while the applied studies provide important functional information concerning the importance of the basic mechanisms under investigation.

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