The detection, assessment and alleviation of pain in laboratory zebrafish

The use of fish as experimental models has resulted in a significant increase in the numbers used in licensed procedures in the UK (+23% in 2010). Fish are subject to many routine procedures that result in tissue damage that would give rise to pain in mammals. For example, the removal of tissue in fin clipping for identification purposes and genetic screens; invasive tagging where tags are introduced into the body cavity; scraping of skin for disease screening; and invasive surgery with recovery.

This project will identify robust behavioural and physiological indicators to detect and assess pain in a model species, the zebrafish, and use the data collected to develop a simple, cost effective monitoring tool. Video recordings of fish subject to four potentially painful procedures shall be compared with undisturbed and sham treated fish along with non-invasive physiological measures of stress (ventilation rate and water cortisol). An intelligent monitoring system will be produced that can classify individuals according to behavioural measures and will provide an unequivocal means of determining whether fish are behaving normally, are stressed or experiencing pain.

This project will also determine what preferences zebrafish have for physical enrichments and social context using a choice chamber paradigm. Once the top preferences are identified these shall be investigated as a means of improving welfare and the recovery from pain by comparison with fish held under standard, barren conditions. Finally, a range of immersion analgesic and local anaesthetic drugs shall be tested to examine whether they effectively reduce the indicators of pain in zebrafish and what the effective dose is.

Pounder KC et al. (2017). Physiological and behavioural evaluation of common anaesthesia practices in the rainbow trout. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 199: 94-102 doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.10.014

Pounder KC, Mitchell JL, Thomson JS, Pottinger TG, Buckley J, Sneddon LY (2016). Does environmental enrichment promote recovery from stress in rainbow trout? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 176: 136-142 doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2016.01.009

Sneddon LU (2015). Pain in aquatic animals. Journal of Experimental Biology 218(Pt 7): 967-976 doi:10.1242/jeb.088823 

Schroeder P, Jones S, Young IS, Sneddon LU (2014). What do zebrafish want? Impact of social grouping, dominance and gender on preference for enrichment. Laboratory Animals 48(4): 328-37 doi:10.1177/0023677214538239 

Sneddon LU, Elwood RW, Adamo SA,  Leach MC (2014). Defining and assessing animal pain. Animal Behaviour 97: 201-212 doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.09.007 

Back to top
Project grant

Grant reference number

NC/K000888/1

Award date:

Nov 2012 - Apr 2016

Grant amount

£445,398