Evidence that the Circadian System Mediates Photoperiodic Nonresponsiveness in Siberian Hamsters: The Effect of Running Wheel Access on Photoperiodic Responsiveness


Juvenile male Siberian hamsters from a line of hamsters selected for nonresponsiveness to short photoperiod (PNRj) and animals from the general colony (UNS) were separated at weaning into two groups. Group 1 males were moved into short days (10 h light:14 h dark [10L:14D]) with free access to running wheels (RW). Group 2 animals were the male siblings of Group 1 hamsters; they were moved at the same time into the same room, but were housed in cages without access to RW. Group 2 hamsters only had access to RW for the final week of short-day exposure (Week 8). Animals were blood sampled at the time of sacrifice for analysis of serum prolactin (PRL) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) concentrations. At sacrifice, paired testis weights were obtained and pelage color was scored. Animals from the UNS line showed the expected declines in testis weight, body weight, and serum concentrations of both PRL and FSH, regardless of the presence or absence of RW. These animals also exhibited a high proportion of individuals molting to winter-type pelage. By contrast, a marked difference was noted between siblings from the PNRj line depending on whether RW access was provided at the time of weaning. Animals with access to RW exhibited identical responses to those of the UNS responder animals, whereas PNRj animals without access to RW showed no adjustments to short days (i.e., testis regression, pelage molt, expansion of alpha). In a second experiment, PNRj and UNS males were placed in constant darkness (DD), with or without RW access. The results of this experiment indicated that PNRj animals respond to DD regardless of the presence or absence of RW. In DD, PNRj hamsters also exhibited significantly longer free-running period lengths (taus) than did UNS hamsters; all the PNRj hamsters had taus > 24 h, whereas none of the UNS hamsters had a tau > 24 h. These results indicate that PNRj hamsters retain the proper neural pathways for responding to short day lengths and establish a role for locomotor activity feedback in modulating the circadian system and, subsequently, photoperiodic responsiveness in PNRj hamsters.

Publication Title

Journal of Biological Rhythms