Evolutionarily conserved role of oxytocin in social fear contagion in zebrafish

Ibukun Akinrinade, Kyriacos Kareklas, Magda C Teles, Thais K Reis, Michael Gliksberg, Giovanni Petri, Gil Levkowitz, Rui F Oliveira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emotional contagion is the most ancestral form of empathy. We tested to what extent the proximate mechanisms of emotional contagion are evolutionarily conserved by assessing the role of oxytocin, known to regulate empathic behaviors in mammals, in social fear contagion in zebrafish. Using oxytocin and oxytocin receptor mutants, we show that oxytocin is both necessary and sufficient for observer zebrafish to imitate the distressed behavior of conspecific demonstrators. The brain regions associated with emotional contagion in zebrafish are homologous to those involved in the same process in rodents (e.g., striatum, lateral septum), receiving direct projections from oxytocinergic neurons located in the pre-optic area. Together, our results support an evolutionary conserved role for oxytocin as a key regulator of basic empathic behaviors across vertebrates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1232-1237
Number of pages6
JournalScience (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
Issue number6638
StatePublished - 24 Mar 2023


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