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Tropical fish fiend for opioids, too

It doesn’t take long for tropical zebrafish to get hooked on hydrocodone. Within a week, they will risk their lives thousands of times per hour to get a dose of the opioid, shows the first study that let the fish themselves choose when to take a hit. To train them, researchers released 1.5 milligrams of hydrocodone per liter of water every time they swam over a shallow platform. The drug quickly filtered out of the tank, so they had to keep going back if they wanted to maintain their high. After just 5 days, the trained fish were visiting the opioid-delivering platform almost 2000 times every 50 minutes, the team reports online today in Behavioral Brain Research. When no drug was present, they visited the platform only about 200 times. Fish normally avoid shallow water, where they’re more likely to be spotted by predators. But over and over again, the jonesing zebrafish left the safety of deep water for the shallow platform. When the team rigged the tank so it took several visits to get a hit, the fish ramped up their efforts, returning as many as 20 times for one dose. Previous studies have shown that zebrafish exposed to opioids become stressed and anxious when the drug is taken away, displaying symptoms of withdrawal. But this is the first time scientists have shown that zebrafish will expend effort—and even court danger—to get a dose. Because zebrafish and humans share the same opioid receptor in their brains, as well as neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that signal pleasure and reward, the team hopes to use them to screen for new treatments for opioid addiction.