Sublethal ammonia induces alterations of emotions, cognition, and social behaviors in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Li Yih Lin, Jiun Lin Horng, Chieh An Cheng, Chun Yung Chang, Bor Wei Cherng, Sian Tai Liu, Ming Yi Chou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Ammonia pollutants were usually found in aquatic environments is due to urban sewage, industrial wastewater discharge, and agricultural runoff and concentrations as high as 180 mg/L (NH4+) have been reported in rivers. High ammonia levels are known to impair multiple tissue and cell functions and cause fish death. Although ammonia is a potent neurotoxin, how sublethal concentrations of ammonia influence the central nervous system (CNS) and the complex behaviors of fish is still unclear. In the present study, we demonstrated that acute sublethal ammonia exposure can change social behavior of adult zebrafish. The exposure to 90 mg /L of (NH4+) for 4 h induced a strong fear response and lower shoaling cohesion; exposure to 180 mg /L of (NH4+) for 4 h reduced the aggressiveness, and social recognition, while the anxiety, social preference, learning, and short-term memory were not affected. Messenger RNA expressions of glutaminase and glutamate dehydrogenase in the brain were induced, suggesting that ammonia exposure altered glutamate neurotransmitters in the CNS. Our findings in zebrafish provided delicate information of ammonia neurotoxicity in complex higher-order social behaviors, which has not been revealed previously. In conclusion, sublethal and acute ammonia exposure can change specific behaviors of fish, which might lead to reductions in individual and population fitness levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114058
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2022


  • Ammonia neurotoxicity
  • Behavioral maladjustment
  • Social behavior
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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