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Jason Rihel

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Sleep Regulation in Zebrafish

We study the genes and neurons that regulate sleep in larval zebrafish. Zebrafish larvae exhibit nighttime periods of inactivity that fulfill the behavioral criteria for sleep, including a decreased sensitivity to stimuli and increased sleep need following sleep deprivation. Furthermore, key neural circuits that regulate sleep/wake are evolutionarily conserved from fish to man. Our lab focuses on the neural circuit that expresses the neuropeptide hypocretin/orexin, as disruptions of this system causes narcolepsy, a sleep disease.

Taking advantage of the genetic tractability of zebrafish, we have also performed both small molecule and genetic loss- and gain-of-function screens and identified several novel sleep/wake regulators. A major focus of the lab is to understand how these genes and drugs modulate and interact with hypocretin and other important sleep regulating circuits.

For more details, please visit the Rihel lab website:


The Rihel lab leverages research methods from chemical biology, molecular genetics, and behavioural neuroscience. Current projects include: 1) combining genetics and behavioural studies to characterize a novel zebrafish sleep mutant 2) using in vivo neuronal imaging to map neuronal activity in response to arousing and sedating drugs and 3) investigating how metabolic, circadian, and other regulatory signals interact with sleep. Moreover, our lab is broadly interested in zebrafish sleep and I would be happy to discuss other project ideas.


1) Rihel J, and Schier AF (2012). Behavioral screening for neuroactive drugs in zebrafish. Developmental Neurobiology, 72(3):373-385.

2) Rihel J*, Prober DA*, Arvanites A, Lam K, Jang S, Haggarty SJ, Kokel D, Rubin LL, Peterson RT, and Schier AF (2010). Zebrafish behavioral profiling links drugs to biological targets and rest/wake regulation. Science, 327(5963):348-51.

3) Prober D, Rihel J, Onah AA, Sung RJ, Schier AF (2006). Hypocretin/orexin overexpression generates a zebrafish genetic model of insomnia. J Neuroscience, 26(51):13400-13410.

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