A research group led by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa biology Assistant Professor Masato Yoshizawa has found similarities between behavior in cavefish and humans with autism and schizophrenia. With this significant discovery, the researchers are attempting to resolve fundamental mechanisms of these diseases, and eventually hope to develop therapeutic methods in autism and schizophrenia. An article focusing on these implications appeared in Science.
According to the article, blind cave fish differ from their surface relatives in that they don’t have a social structure and don’t school. They also almost never sleep and are hyperactive, tending toward repetitive behavior with seemingly higher anxiety than their surface relatives. The cave fish genome shares a high percentage of classic risk factor genes for human psychiatric diseases, according to Yoshizawa’s study. This, combined with their behavioral traits, make the cave fish an interesting potential candidate for further testing compared with the typical lab mouse.
Yoshizawa presented his findings at the 23rd International Conference on Subterranean Biology in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His presentation, “Adaptation through changes of behavioral and morphological traits in Mexican Cavefish,” garnered attention for its implications regarding the potential for the fish research in understanding human mental disorders and possible treatments.