Anxiety-like behavior in crayfish is controlled by serotonin

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Science  13 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6189, pp. 1293-1297
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248811

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The crayfish that was afraid of the dark

We tend to assume that complex emotions, such as anxiety, only occur in mammals or other cognitively complex vertebrates. But a heightened sense of awareness and the avoidance of novel or dangerous environments could be helpful for any animal species. Fossat et al. show that crayfish exposed to a stressful electric field refuse to enter dark arms in a light/dark maze, even after the electric field has been removed. The animals calmed down when they were injected with an anxiolytic drug used to treat anxiety in humans, and they entered the dark as normal. The stressed animals had increased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, and injections of serotonin induced anxiety-like behavior in control animals. Thus, these invertebrates display a primitive form of anxiety that shares a mechanism with the more complex emotions displayed by vertebrates.

Science, this issue p. 1293


Anxiety, a behavioral consequence of stress, has been characterized in humans and some vertebrates, but not invertebrates. Here, we demonstrate that after exposure to stress, crayfish sustainably avoided the aversive illuminated arms of an aquatic plus-maze. This behavior was correlated with an increase in brain serotonin and was abolished by the injection of the benzodiazepine anxiolytic chlordiazepoxide. Serotonin injection into unstressed crayfish induced avoidance; again, this effect was reversed by injection with chlordiazepoxide. Our results demonstrate that crayfish exhibit a form of anxiety similar to that described in vertebrates, suggesting the conservation of several underlying mechanisms during evolution. Analyses of this ancestral behavior in a simple model reveal a new route to understanding anxiety and may alter our conceptions of the emotional status of invertebrates.

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