Repetitive optogenetic stimulation of glutamatergic neurons: An alternative to NMDA treatment for generating locomotor activity in spinalized zebrafish larvae

Jacob E. Montgomery, Sarah Wahlstrom Helgren, Kayce T Vanpelt, Mark A. Masino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) application has conventionally been used to activate spinal networks to induce locomotion in spinalized animals. We recently described an alternative approach in which application of continuous blue light activates channelrhodopsin-2 in vesicular glutamate transporter 2a (vglut2a)-expressing spinal neurons to produce organized, rhythmic locomotor activity in spinally-transected larval zebrafish. This technique arguably enhances research validity, because endogenous glutamate is released into existing synapses instead of activating only a subset of glutamatergic (NMDA) receptors with an exogenous compound. Here, we explored the viability of this approach in the context of using it for longer-term experiments. Fictive swimming was induced through repetitive application of 10-s blue light stimuli to spinalized preparations for up to 60 min at intervals of 1, 3, or 15 min. Locomotor activity was maintained throughout the experimental timecourse, demonstrating the robustness of the system. Although locomotor bursts remained organized into episodes of activity, the number of bursts elicited during each successive stimulus decreased. This was in contrast to NMDA bath application, in which bursts became less episodically organized while the overall number of bursts remained unchanged. The efficacy of the repetitive optogenetic stimulation paradigm was demonstrated through application of exogenous dopamine, which reversibly decreased the number of bursts produced per stimulus compared with untreated preparations. Finally, increasing the stimulus interval to 15 min lessened, but did not eliminate locomotor fatigue from repetitive activation. Altogether, we established repetitive optogenetic stimulation of vglut2a-expressing neurons as a viable alternative to NMDA application for activation of the zebrafish spinal locomotor network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14774
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health ( ) grant R01 NS094176 (MAM) and Regenerative Medicine Minnesota (JM).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Physiological Reports published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Physiological Society and the American Physiological Society


  • locomotion
  • optogenetic
  • spinal cord
  • zebrafish

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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