Low ambient temperature accelerates short-day responses in siberian hamsters by altering responsiveness to melatonin


Exposure to low ambient temperatures (Ta) accelerates appearance of the winter phenotype in Siberian hamsters transferred from long to short day lengths. Because melatonin transduces the effects of day length on the neuroendocrine axis, the authors assessed whether low Ta promotes the transition to winterlike traits by accelerating the onset of increased nocturnal melatonin secretion or by enhancing responsiveness to melatonin in short day lengths. Male hamsters were transferred from 16L (16 h light/day) to 8L (8 h light/day) photoperiods and held at 5°C or 22°C. Locomotor activity was recorded continuously, and body mass, testis size, and pelage color were determined biweekly for 8 weeks. The duration of nocturnal locomotion (α), a reliable indicator of the duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion, lengthened significantly earlier in hamsters exposed to a Ta of 5°C than 22°C. Cold exposure increased the proportion of hamsters that were photoresponsive: gonadal regression in short days increased from 44% at 22°C to 81% at 5°C (p < 0.05); low Ta did not, however, accelerate testicular regression in animals that were photoresponsive. Nonphotoresponsive animals at 5°C temporarily had longer αs during the first 4 weeks in short days and significant decreases in body mass and testicular size that were reversed during the ensuing weeks when α decreased. In a 2nd experiment, pinealectomized male hamsters infused for 10 h/ day with melatonin for 2 weeks had significantly lower body and testes masses when maintained at 5°C but not 22°C. Low-ambient temperature appears to accelerate the appearance of the winter phenotype primarily by increasing target tissue responsiveness to melatonin and to a lesser extent by augmenting the rate at which the duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion increases in short day lengths.

Publication Title

Journal of Biological Rhythms