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1.  Pineal-dependent and -independent effects of photoperiod on immune function in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Hormones and Behavior  2006;51(1):31-39.
Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) exhibit reproductive and immunological responses to photoperiod. Short (<10-h light/day) days induce gonadal atrophy, increase leukocyte concentrations, and attenuate thermoregulatory and behavioral responses to infection. Whereas hamster reproductive responses to photoperiod are dependent on pineal melatonin secretion, the role of the pineal in short-day induced changes in immune function is not fully understood. To examine this, adult hamsters were pinealectomized (PINx) or sham-PINx, and transferred to short days (9-h light/day; SD) or kept in their natal long-day (15-h light/day; LD) photoperiod. Intact and PINx hamsters housed in LD maintained large testes over the next 12 weeks; sham-PINx hamsters exhibited gonadal regression in SD, and PINx abolished this effect. Among pineal-intact hamsters, blood samples revealed increases in leukocyte, lymphocyte, CD62L+ lymphocyte, and T cell counts in SD relative to LD; PINx did not affect leukocyte numbers in LD hamsters, but abolished the SD increase in these measures. Hamsters were then treated with bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which induced thermoregulatory (fever), behavioral (anorexia, reductions in nest building), and somatic (weight loss) sickness responses in all groups. Among pineal-intact hamsters, febrile and behavioral responses to LPS were attenuated in SD relative to LD. PINx did not affect sickness responses to LPS in LD hamsters, but abolished the ameliorating effects of SD on behavioral responses to LPS. Surprisingly, PINx failed to abolish the effect of SD on fever. In common with the reproductive system, PINx induces the LD phenotype in most aspects of the immune system. The pineal gland is required for photoperiodic regulation of circulating leukocytes and neural-immune interactions that mediate select aspects of sickness behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3345196  PMID: 17022983
Melatonin; Seasonality; Sickness behaviors; Neural-immune interactions
2.  Exogenous kisspeptin does not alter photoperiod-induced gonadal regression in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
In order to reproduce successfully, animals must integrate multiple environmental cues to synchronize breeding with favorable conditions. In temperate seasonally breeding rodents, photoperiod acts as the primary seasonal cue. Long days are associated with reproductive development and maturation of the gonads whereas short days induce gonadal regression. The neuropeptide kisspeptin has potent stimulatory effects on reproductive development. Kisspeptin potently stimulates GnRH release and kisspeptin expression co-varies with photoperiod in seasonally breeding animals. Here we tested the hypothesis that reproductive involution in response to inhibitory day lenghts results from reduced kisspeptin stimulation of the reproductive axis in seasonally breeding Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). If true, gonadal regrowth should be hastened by kisspeptin treatment in regressed hamsters and prevented in hamsters by treatment prior to and during regression. In Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 we tested the ability of kisspeptin to reverse gonadal regression. In Experiment 1, reproductively regressed hamsters received chronic kisspeptin via osmotic mini-pumps for 4 weeks. In Experiment 2, daily injections of kisspeptin were administered to regressed hamsters for 6 weeks. In Experiment 3, the ability of kisspeptin to block gonadal regression was tested; hamsters transferred to short days received daily injections of kisspeptin for 6 weeks. In all three studies, short day animals receiving exogenous kisspeptin did not differ from short-day controls. Collectively, these results provide evidence that mechanisms in addition to those that converge on the kisspeptin system are likely critical for seasonal changes in the reproductive axis.
PMCID: PMC2430753  PMID: 18405899
metastin; seasonal reproduction; gonadal recrudescence; GPR54; puberty
3.  Photoperiod History Differentially Impacts Reproduction and Immune Function in Adult Siberian Hamsters 
Journal of biological rhythms  2009;24(6):509-522.
Seasonal changes in numerous aspects of mammalian immune function arise as a result of the annual variation in environmental day length (photoperiod), but it is not known if absolute photoperiod or relative change in photoperiod drives these changes. This experiment tested the hypothesis that an individual’s history of exposure to day length determines immune responses to ambiguous, intermediate-duration day lengths. Immunological (blood leukocytes, delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions [DTH]), reproductive, and adrenocortical responses were assessed in adult Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) that had been raised initially in categorically long (15-h light/day; 15L) or short (9L) photoperiods and were subsequently transferred to 1 of 7 cardinal experimental photoperiods between 9L and 15L, inclusive Initial photoperiod history interacted with contemporary experimental photoperiods to determ.ine reproductive responses: 11L, 12L, and 13L caused gonadal regression in hamsters previously exposed to 15L, but elicited growth in hamsters previously in 9L. In hamsters with a 15L photoperiod history, photoperiods ≤ 11L elicited sustained enhancement of DTH responses, whereas in hamsters with a 9L photoperiod history, DTH responses were largely unaffected by increases in day length. Enhancement and suppression of blood leukocyte concentrations occurred at 13L in hamsters with photoperiod histories of 15L and 9L, respectively; however, prior exposure to 9L imparted marked hysteresis effects, which suppressed baseline leukocyte concentrations. Cortisol concentrations were only enhanced in 15L hamsters transferred to 9L and, in common with DTH, were unaffected by photoperiod treatments in hamsters with a 9L photoperiod history. Photoperiod history acquired in adulthood impacts immune responses to photoperiod, but manifests in a markedly dissimilar fashion as compared to the reproductive system. Prior photoperiod exposure has an enduring impact on the ability of the immune system to respond to subsequent changes in day length.
PMCID: PMC3965335  PMID: 19926810
delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH); blood leukocyte; cortisol; neural-immune interactions; seasonality; reproduction
4.  Reproductive Responses to Photoperiod Persist in Olfactory Bulbectomized Siberian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Behavioural brain research  2008;198(1):159-164.
In reproductively photoperiodic Syrian hamsters, removal of the olfactory bulbs leads to a marked and sustained increase in gonadotrophin secretion which prevents normal testicular regression in short photoperiods. In contrast, among reproductively non-photoperiodic laboratory strains of rats and mice, bulbectomy unmasks reproductive responses to photoperiod. The role of the olfactory bulbs has been proposed to have opposite effects on responsiveness to photoperiod, depending on the photoperiodicity of the reproductive system; however, Syrian hamsters are the only reproductively photoperiodic rodent species for which the role of the olfactory bulb in reproductive endocrinology has been assessed. This experiment evaluated the role of the olfactory bulbs in the photoperiodic control of reproduction in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus), an established model species for the study of neural substrates mediating seasonality. Relative to control hamsters housed in long days (15 h light/day), exposure of adult male hamsters to short days (9 h light/day) for 8 weeks led to a temporal expansion of the pattern of nocturnal locomotor activity, testicular regression, decreases in testosterone (T) production, and undetectable levels of plasma follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Bilateral olfactory bulbectomy failed to affect any of these responses to short days. The patterns of entrainment to long and short days suggests that pre-pineal mechanisms involved in photoperiodic timekeeping are functioning normally in OBx hamsters. The absence of increases in FSH following bulbectomy in long days is incompatible with the hypothesis that the olfactory bulbs provide tonic inhibition of the HPG axis in this species. In marked contrast to Syrian hamsters, the olfactory bulbs of Siberian hamsters play essentially no role in the modulation of tonic gonadotrophin production or gonadotrophin responses to photoperiod.
PMCID: PMC2661624  PMID: 19027041
photoperiodism; biological rhythms; reproduction; brain lesion
5.  Photic and non-photic seasonal cues differentially engage hypothalamic kisspeptin and RFamide-related peptide mRNA expression in Siberian hamsters 
Journal of neuroendocrinology  2009;21(12):1007-1014.
Seasonally breeding animals use a combination of photic (i.e., day length) and non-photic (e.g., food availability, temperature) cues to regulate their reproduction. How these environmental cues are integrated is not understood. To assess the potential role of two candidate neuropeptides, kisspeptin and RFamide-related peptide-3 (RFRP), we monitored regional changes in their gene expression in a seasonally breeding mammal exposed to moderate changes in photoperiod and food availability. Adult male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) were housed in a long (16 h light/day; 16L) or intermediate (13.5L) photoperiod and fed ad libitum or a progressive food restriction schedule (FR; reduced to 80% of ad libitum) for 11 weeks. Gonadal regression occurred only in FR hamsters housed in 13.5L. Immunohistochemistry was used to identify diencephalic populations of kisspeptin- and RFRP-immunoreactive cells, and quantitative PCR was used to measure gene expression in adjacent coronal brain sections. Photoperiod but not food availability altered RFRP mRNA expression in the dorsomedial sections, whereas food availability but not photoperiod altered Kiss1 expression in the arcuate sections; intermediate photoperiods elevated RFRP expression, and food restriction suppressed Kiss1 expression. Regional- and neuropeptide-specific activity of RFamides may provide a mechanism for integration of multi-modal environmental information in the seasonal control of reproduction.
PMCID: PMC2789174  PMID: 19840238
RFamide; seasonality; energetics; reproduction; neuropeptides
6.  Photoperiodic Changes in Endocannabinoid Levels and Energetic Responses to Altered Signalling at CB1 Receptors in Siberian Hamsters 
Journal of neuroendocrinology  2012;24(7):1030-1039.
Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) adapt to seasonal environmental conditions with marked changes in body mass, primarily in the form of adiposity. Winter-like conditions (e.g. short days) are sufficient to decrease body mass by approximately 30% in part via reductions in food intake. The neuroendocrine mechanisms responsible for these changes are not well understood, and homeostatic orexigenic/anorexigenic systems of the hypothalamus provide little explanation. We investigated the potential role of endocannabinoids, which are known modulators of appetite and metabolism, in mediating seasonal changes in energy balance. Specifically, we housed hamsters in long or short days for 0, 3, or 9 weeks and measured endocannabinoid levels in the hypothalamus, brainstem, liver and retroperitoneal white adipose tissue (RWAT). An additional group of males housed in short days for 25 weeks were also compared with long-day controls. Following 9 weeks in short days, levels of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) were significantly elevated in RWAT and reduced in brainstem, although they returned to long-day levels by week 25 in short-day males that had cycled back to summer-like energy balance. Endocannabinoid levels in these tissues correlated significantly with adiposity and change in body mass. No photoperiodic changes were observed in the hypothalamus or liver; however, sex differences in 2-AG levels were found in the liver (males > females). We further tested the effects of CB1 receptor signalling on ingestive behaviour. Five daily injections of CB1 antagonist SR141716 significantly reduced food intake and body mass but not food hoarding. Although the CB1 agonist arachidonyl-2-chloroethylamide did not appreciably affect either ingestive behaviour, body mass was significantly elevated following 2 days of injections. Taken altogether, these findings demonstrate that endocannabinoid levels vary with sex and photoperiod in a site-specific manner, and that altered signalling at CB1 receptors affects energy balance in Siberian hamsters.
PMCID: PMC4060156  PMID: 22420341
energy balance; adiposity; seasonality; sex differences; 2-AG
7.  Exogenous insulin enhances humoural immune responses in short-day, but not long-day, Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Many animals experience marked seasonal fluctuations in environmental conditions. In response, animals display adaptive alterations in physiology and behaviour, including seasonal changes in immune function. During winter, animals must reallocate finite energy stores from relatively costly, less exigent systems (e.g. reproduction and immunity) to systems critical for immediate survival (e.g. thermoregulation). Seasonal changes in immunity are probably mediated by neuroendocrine factors signalling current energetic state. One potential hormonal candidate is insulin, a metabolic hormone released in response to elevated blood glucose levels. The aim of the present study was to explore the potential role of insulin in signalling energy status to the immune system in a seasonally breeding animal, the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). Specifically, exogenous insulin was administered to male hamsters housed in either long ‘summer-like’ or short ‘winter-like’ days. Animals were then challenged with an innocuous antigen and immune responses were measured. Insulin treatment significantly enhanced humoural immune responses in short, but not long days. In addition, insulin treatment increased food intake and decreased blood glucose levels across photoperiodic treatments. Collectively, these data support the hypothesis that insulin acts as an endocrine signal integrating seasonal energetic changes and immune responses in seasonally breeding rodents.
PMCID: PMC2880144  PMID: 20236973
immunity; energy balance; insulin; antibody response
8.  Suppression of Kisspeptin Expression and Gonadotropic Axis Sensitivity Following Exposure to Inhibitory Day Lengths in Female Siberian Hamsters 
Hormones and behavior  2007;52(4):492-498.
To avoid breeding during unsuitable environmental or physiological circumstances, the reproductive axis adjusts its output in response to fluctuating internal and external conditions. The ability of the reproductive system to alter its activity appropriately in response to these cues has been well established. However, the means by which reproductively relevant cues are interpreted, integrated, and relayed to the reproductive axis remain less well specified. The neuropeptide kisspeptin has been shown to be a potent positive stimulator of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, suggesting a possible neural locus for the interpretation/integration of these cues. Because a failure to inhibit reproduction during winter would be maladaptive for short-lived female rodents, female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) housed in long and short days hamsters were examined. In long, ‘summer’ photoperiods, kisspeptin is highly expressed in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV), with low expression in the arcuate nucleus (Arc). A striking reversal in this pattern is observed in animals held in short, ‘winter’ photoperiods, with negligible kisspeptin expression in the AVPV and marked staining in the Arc. Although all studies to date suggest that both populations act to stimulate the reproductive axis, these contrasting expression patterns of AVPV and Arc kisspeptin suggest disparate roles for these two cell populations. Additionally, we found that the stimulatory actions of exogenous kisspeptin are blocked by acyline, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) receptor antagonist, suggesting an action of kisspeptin on the GnRH system rather than pituitary gonadotropes. Finally, females held in short day lengths exhibit a reduced response to exogenous kisspeptin treatment relative to long-day animals. Together, these findings indicate a role for kisspeptin in the AVPV and Arc as an upstream integration center for reproductively-relevant stimuli and point to a dual mechanism of reproductive inhibition in which kisspeptin expression is reduced concomitant with reduced sensitivity of the HPG axis to this peptide.
PMCID: PMC2717891  PMID: 17706968
metastin; GPR54; photoperiod; Siberian hamster; seasonal; reproduction
9.  A Functional Nexus between Photoperiod Acclimation, Torpor Expression and Somatic Fatty Acid Composition in a Heterothermic Mammal 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63803.
The seasonal changes in thermal physiology and torpor expression of many heterothermic mammals are controlled by photoperiod. As function at low body temperatures during torpor requires changes of tissue lipid composition, we tested for the first time whether and how fatty acids are affected by photoperiod acclimation in hamsters, Phodopus sungorus, a strongly photoperiodic species. We also examined changes in fatty acid composition in relation to those in morphology and thermal biology. Hamsters in short photoperiod had smaller reproductive organs and most had a reduced body mass in comparison to those in long photoperiod. Pelage colour of hamsters under short photoperiod was almost white while that of long photoperiod hamsters was grey-brown and black. Short photoperiod acclimation resulted in regular (28% of days) torpor use, whereas all hamsters in long photoperiod remained normothermic. The composition of total fatty acids differed between acclimation groups for brown adipose tissue (5 of 8 fatty acids), heart muscle (4 of 7 fatty acids) and leg muscle (3 of 11 fatty acids). Importantly, 54% of all fatty acids detected were correlated (r2 = 0.60 to 0.87) with the minimum surface temperature of individuals, but the responses of tissues differed. While some of the compositional changes of fatty acids were consistent with a ‘homeoviscous’ response, this was not the case for all, including the sums of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, which did not differ between acclimation groups. Our data identify a possible nexus between photoperiod acclimation, morphology, reproductive biology, thermal biology and fatty acid composition. They suggest that some of the changes in thermal physiology are linked to the composition of tissue and organ fatty acids.
PMCID: PMC3661731  PMID: 23717487
10.  Seasonal pelage changes are synchronized by simulated natural photoperiods in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
The extent to which changing day lengths synchronize the seasonal molt was assessed in nine cohorts of male and female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) born into a simulated natural photoperiod (SNP) beginning 4 weeks before and ending 12 weeks after the summer solstice. Hamsters in early cohorts displayed rapid somatic and gonadal growth and early puberty, whereas those in later cohorts delayed puberty until the next spring. Despite the varying birth dates and puberty strategies, the seasonal pattern of change in pelage is much better predicted by calendar date than by age in both sexes. Males born over the course of 16 weeks first made the transition to the winter pelage during a 5 week interval beginning on October 25; the autumn molt, however, was not significantly synchronized by either age or calendar date. The autumn molt of females on the other hand began 2 weeks later, and was significantly synchronized to calendar date with no detectable age effects. In both sexes, the autumn molt lagged gonadal and somatic seasonal changes by many weeks. Date of birth did not affect the timing of the spring molt, which was significantly synchronized by calendar date in both sexes. Incrementally changing photoperiods exert a strong organizing effect on the seasonal molt by providing hamsters with timing cues that are absent in laboratory analyses that employ static day lengths and abrupt transitions from summer to winter day lengths, thereby extending and validating conclusions derived from previous analyses.
PMCID: PMC3864830  PMID: 19425044
natural day length; molt; fur
11.  Effect of Exercise on Photoperiod-Regulated Hypothalamic Gene Expression and Peripheral Hormones in the Seasonal Dwarf Hamster Phodopus sungorus 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90253.
The Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus) is a seasonal mammal responding to the annual cycle in photoperiod with anticipatory physiological adaptations. This includes a reduction in food intake and body weight during the autumn in anticipation of seasonally reduced food availability. In the laboratory, short-day induction of body weight loss can be reversed or prevented by voluntary exercise undertaken when a running wheel is introduced into the home cage. The mechanism by which exercise prevents or reverses body weight reduction is unknown, but one hypothesis is a reversal of short-day photoperiod induced gene expression changes in the hypothalamus that underpin body weight regulation. Alternatively, we postulate an exercise-related anabolic effect involving the growth hormone axis. To test these hypotheses we established photoperiod-running wheel experiments of 8 to 16 weeks duration assessing body weight, food intake, organ mass, lean and fat mass by magnetic resonance, circulating hormones FGF21 and insulin and hypothalamic gene expression. In response to running wheel activity, short-day housed hamsters increased body weight. Compared to short-day housed sedentary hamsters the body weight increase was accompanied by higher food intake, maintenance of tissue mass of key organs such as the liver, maintenance of lean and fat mass and hormonal profiles indicative of long day housed hamsters but there was no overall reversal of hypothalamic gene expression regulated by photoperiod. Therefore the mechanism by which activity induces body weight gain is likely to act largely independently of photoperiod regulated gene expression in the hypothalamus.
PMCID: PMC3946023  PMID: 24603871
12.  Influence of the olfactory bulbs on blood leukocytes and behavioral responses to infection in Siberian hamsters 
Brain research  2009;10.1016/j.brainres.2009.01.025.
Surgical removal of the olfactory bulb alters several aspects of immunological activity. This study investigated the role of the olfactory bulbs in the control of behavioral responses to simulated infection, and the environmental modulation of sickness behaviors by changes in day length. Adult male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) were subjected to bilateral olfactory bulbectomy (OBx) or a sham surgical procedure, and were then exposed to long (15 h light/day; LD) or short (9 h light/day; SD) photoperiods for 8–12 weeks, after which circulating leukocytes and behavioral responses (anorexia, anhedonia, cachexia) to simulated gram-negative bacterial infections (i.p. lipopolysaccharide [LPS] treatment; 0.625 mg/kg) were quantified. OBx treatment altered the effects of photoperiod on immune function in a trait-specific manner. LPS-induced anorexia was exacerbated in SD-OBx hamsters; LPS-induced anhedonia was exacerbated in LD-OBx hamsters; and photoperiodic differences in circulating leukocytes and LPS-induced cachexia were eliminated by OBx. Plasma cortisol concentrations did not differ between LD and SD hamsters, irrespective of olfactory bulb integrity. The data indicate that photoperiod affects immune function via OB-dependent and -independent mechanisms, and that changes in cortisol production are not required for photoperiodic changes in sickness behaviors to manifest.
PMCID: PMC3749255  PMID: 19368847
Immune function; Olfactory bulbectomy; Photoperiodism; Inflammation; Sickness behavior; Seasonality; Cortisol
13.  Pubertal growth of the medial amygdala delayed by short photoperiods in the Siberian hamster, Phodopus sungorus 
Hormones and behavior  2007;52(3):283-288.
We investigated whether puberty influences the morphology of the medial nucleus of the amygdala (MeA) by comparing Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) that had been raised from birth in either long day (LD; 16:8 h light:dark) or short day (SD; 8:16) photoperiods. Hamsters were sacrificed at 42 – 49 days of age, at which point all LD hamsters were reproductively mature, as evidenced by adult-like testes weights (mean: 657 mg). In contrast, the testes weights of the SD hamsters were low (mean: 31 mg), indicating that the SD photoperiod had delayed puberty. The regional volume and mean soma size of the four MeA subnuclei was estimated bilaterally by stereological procedures. In the posterior dorsal and ventral MeA subnuclei, regional volume was 22–25% larger, and mean soma size 18% larger, in LD males than SD males. Unbiased cell counts in the posterior dorsal MeA showed that LD and SD hamsters have equivalent neuron numbers. In the anterior MeA subnuclei, regional volumes and soma sizes from LD and SD hamsters were equivalent. Additionally, the regional volume of the posteroventral subnucleus was larger in the right hemisphere than the left, but this laterality did not respond to photoperiod manipulation. These results suggest that the extant neurons within the posterior MeA, a steroid-sensitive nucleus implicated in socio-sexual behavior, grow in response to the elevated levels of circulating androgen accompanying puberty, and that photoperiodic regulation of puberty affects morphological maturation of this nucleus.
PMCID: PMC2001248  PMID: 17604030
Puberty; regional volume; morphological plasticity; androgen; trophic factor
14.  Photoperiod-dependent modulation of anti-Müllerian hormone in female Siberian hamsters, Phodopus sungorus 
Reproduction (Cambridge, England)  2008;135(3):335-342.
Fertility and fecundity decline with advancing age in female mammals, but reproductive aging was decelerated in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) raised in a short day (SD) photoperiod. Litter success was significantly improved in older hamsters when reared in SD and the number of primordial follicles was twice that of females held in long days (LD). Because anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) appears to inhibit the recruitment of primordial follicles in mice, we sought to determine if the expression patterns of AMH differ in the ovaries and serum of hamsters raised in SD versus LD. Ovaries of SD female hamsters are characterized by a paucity of follicular development beyond the secondary stage and are endowed with an abundance of large eosinophilic cells, which may derive from granulosa cells of oocyte-depleted follicles. In ovaries from 10 week-old SD hamsters, we found the so-called “hypertrophied granulosa cells” were immunoreactive for AMH, as were granulosa cells within healthy appearing primary and secondary follicles. Conversely, ovaries from age-matched LD animals lack the highly eosinophilic cells present in SD ovaries. Therefore, AMH staining in LD was limited to primary and secondary follicles, which are comparable in number to those found in SD ovaries. The substantially greater AMH expression in SD ovaries probably reflects the abundance of hypertrophied granulosa cells in SD ovaries and their relative absence in LD ovaries. The modulation of ovarian AMH by day length is a strong mechanistic candidate for the preservation of primordial follicles in female hamsters raised in a SD photoperiod.
PMCID: PMC2346561  PMID: 18299426
anti-Mullerian hormone; Ovary; Photoperiod; hamster
15.  Immune challenge retards seasonal reproductive regression in rodents: evidence for terminal investment 
Biology Letters  2006;2(3):393-396.
Animals must balance investments in different physiological activities to allow them to maximize fitness in the environments they inhabit. These adjustments among reproduction, growth and survival are mandated because of the competing high costs of each process. Seasonally breeding rodents generally bias their investments towards reproduction when environmental conditions are benign, but shift these investments towards processes that promote survival, including immune activity, when environmental conditions deteriorate. Because survival probability of non-tropical small mammals is generally low in winter, under certain circumstances, these animals may not allocate resources to survival mechanisms in an effort to produce as many offspring as possible in the face of increased probability of death. Such ‘terminal investments’ have been described in passerines, but there are few examples of such phenomena in small mammals. Here, we show that male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) challenged with lipopolysaccharide (a component of gram-negative bacteria that activates the immune system) induced a small, but significant, retardation of seasonal regression of the reproductive system relative to saline-injected hamsters. This delayed reproductive regression likely reflects a strategy to maintain reproductive function when survival prospects are compromised by infection.
PMCID: PMC1686181  PMID: 17148412
photoperiodism; seasonality; Siberian hamsters; terminal investment; life history
16.  Daily torpor is associated with telomere length change over winter in Djungarian hamsters 
Biology Letters  2011;8(2):304-307.
Ageing can progress at different rates according to an individual's physiological state. Natural hypothermia, including torpor and hibernation, is a common adaptation of small mammals to survive intermittent or seasonal declines in environmental conditions. In addition to allowing energy savings, hypothermia and torpor have been associated with retarded ageing and increased longevity. We tested the hypothesis that torpor use slows ageing by measuring changes in the relative telomere length (RTL) of Djungarian hamsters, Phodopus sungorus, a highly seasonal rodent using spontaneous daily torpor, over 180 days of exposure to a short-day photoperiod and warm (approx. 20°C) or cold (approx. 9°C) air temperatures. Multi-model inference showed that change in RTL within individuals was best explained by positive effects of frequency of torpor use, particularly at low body temperatures, as well as the change in body mass and initial RTL. Telomere dynamics have been linked to future survival and proposed as an index of rates of biological ageing. Our results therefore support the hypothesis that daily torpor is associated with physiological changes that increase somatic maintenance and slow the processes of ageing.
PMCID: PMC3297381  PMID: 21920955
ageing; hypothermia; senescence; torpor; telomere
17.  Leptin regulates energetic tradeoffs between body fat and humoural immunity 
Mounting an immune response requires a relatively substantial investment of energy and marked reductions in energy availability can suppress immune function and presumably increase disease susceptibility. We have previously demonstrated that a moderate reduction in energy stores via partial surgical lipectomy (LIPx) impairs humoural immunity of Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Here we tested the hypothesis that LIPx-induced decreases in immunity are mediated by changes in the adipose tissue hormone leptin. Hamsters received bilateral surgical removal of inguinal white adipose tissue (IWATx) or sham surgeries (Sham). Half the animals in each group received osmotic minipumps containing murine leptin (0.5 μl h−1 for 10 days) whereas the remaining animals received minipumps containing vehicle alone; all animals were subsequently challenged with the novel antigen keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH). In general, serum leptin and anti-KLH antibodies were significantly correlated with one another with higher levels generally indicating enhanced immunity. In addition, IWATx hamsters had significantly lower serum anti-KLH IgG compared with sham animals. Exogenous leptin, however, attenuated LIPx-induced immune suppression but did not affect humoural immunity in sham animals. These results suggest that reductions in energy availability lead to impairments in humoural immunity and that leptin can serve as a neuroendocrine signal between body fat and immunity regulating humoural immune responses.
PMCID: PMC1559861  PMID: 16096098
body fat; adipose tissue; seasonal; immune; energetics
18.  Differential Ovarian Expression of KiSS-1 and GPR-54 During the Estrous Cycle and Photoperiod Induced Recrudescence in Siberian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Kisspeptins, coded by the KiSS-1 gene, regulate aspects of the reproductive axis by stimulating GnRH release via the G protein coupled receptor, GPR54. Recent reports show that KiSS/GPR54 may be key mediators in photoperiod-controlled reproduction in seasonal breeders, and that KiSS-1/GPR54 are expressed in the hypothalamus, ovaries, placenta, and pancreas. This study examined the expression of KiSS-1/GPR54 mRNA and protein in ovaries of Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Ovaries from cycling hamsters were collected during proestrus (P), estrus (E), diestrus I (DI), and diestrus II (DII). To examine KiSS-1/GPR54 during stimulated recrudescence, additional hamsters were maintained either in long day (LD 16L:8D, control) or short day (SD 8L:16D) for 14 weeks and then transferred to LD for 0–8 weeks. Staining of KiSS-1/GPR54 protein was detected by immunohistochemistry in steroidogenic cells of preantral and antral follicles, and corpora lutea. Immunostaining peaked in P and E, but decreased in the diestrus stages (p<0.05). In recrudescing ovaries, KiSS-1/GPR54 immunostaining was low after 14 wks of SD exposure (post transfer [PT] wk0), and increased during the early weeks of recrudescence. Expression of KiSS-1/GPR54 mRNA was low with short day exposure, but increased during recrudescence and was higher at PT wk8 as compared to PTwks 0 and 2 (p<0.05). The elevated KiSS-1/ GPR54 expression during P and E suggests a potential role in ovulation in Siberian hamsters. Transient increases in KiSS-1/GPR54 expression following LD stimulation are also suggestive of possible involvement in ovulation and/or restoration of ovarian function.
PMCID: PMC2660602  PMID: 18937338
Seasonal reproduction; Ovary; Kisspeptin
19.  Photoperiod and Testosterone Interact to Drive Seasonal Changes in Kisspeptin Expression in Siberian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Journal of neuroendocrinology  2008;20(12):1339-1347.
Kisspeptin, a neuropeptide product of the KiSS-1 gene, has recently been implicated in the regulation of seasonal breeding in a number of species, including Siberian hamsters. In this species, kisspeptin expression is reduced in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV) following exposure to inhibitory day lengths, and exogenous kisspeptin activates the reproductive neuroendocrine axis of reproductively quiescent animals. Because sex steroids can impact kisspeptin expression, it is unclear whether changes in kisspeptin occur in direct response to photoperiodic cues or secondarily in response to changes in sex steroid concentrations resulting from the transition to reproductive quiescence. The present study aimed to assess the relative contributions of photoperiod and testosterone in regulating kisspeptin expression in Siberian hamsters. Animals housed in long or short day lengths for 8 weeks were either castrated or received sham surgeries. Half of the hamsters in each photoperiod were given testosterone to mimic long-day sex steroid concentrations. The results obtained indicate that kisspeptin neurones in the AVPV and arcuate nuclei were influenced by both photoperiod and testosterone. In the AVPV, removal of testosterone or exposure to inhibitory day lengths led to a marked reduction in kisspeptin-immunoreactive cells, and testosterone treatment increased cell numbers across conditions. Importantly, long-day castrates exhibited significantly more kisspeptin cells than short-day castrates or intact short-day animals with empty capsules, suggesting the influences of photoperiod, independent of gonadal steroids. In general, the opposite pattern emerged for the arcuate nuclei. Collectively, these data suggest a role for both gonadal-dependent and independent (i.e. photoperiodic) mechanisms regulating seasonal changes in kisspeptin expression in Siberian hamsters.
PMCID: PMC2636859  PMID: 19094081
KiSS-1; reproduction; RF amide; seasonal breeding; gonadal steroids
20.  Individual differences in circadian waveform of Siberian hamsters under multiple lighting conditions 
Journal of biological rhythms  2012;27(5):410-419.
Because the circadian clock in the mammalian brain derives from a network of interacting cellular oscillators, characterizing the nature and bases of circadian coupling is fundamental to understanding how the pacemaker operates. Various phenomena involving plasticity in circadian waveform have been theorized to reflect changes in oscillator coupling; however, it remains unclear whether these different behavioral paradigms reference a unitary underlying process. To test if disparate coupling assays index a common mechanism, we examined whether there is co-variation among behavioral responses to various lighting conditions that produce changes in circadian waveform. Siberian hamsters, Phodopus sungorus, were transferred from long to short photoperiods to distinguish short photoperiod responders (SP-R) from non-responders (SP-NR). Short photoperiod chronotyped hamsters were subsequently transferred, along with unselected controls, to 24 h light:dark:light:dark cycles (LDLD) with dim nighttime illumination, a procedure that induces bifurcated entrainment. Under LDLD, SP-R hamsters were more likely to bifurcate their rhythms than SP-NR hamsters or unselected controls. After transfer from LDLD to constant dim light, SP-R hamsters were also more likely to become arrhythmic compared to SP-NR hamsters and unselected controls. In contrast, short photoperiod chronotype did not influence more transient changes in circadian waveform. The present data reveal a clear relationship in the plasticity of circadian waveform across three distinct lighting conditions, suggesting a common mechanism wherein individual differences reflect variation in circadian coupling.
PMCID: PMC3578227  PMID: 23010663
Short photoperiod chronotype; non-responsiveness; LDLD; bifurcated entrainment; dim nighttime illumination; circadian coupling
21.  Graded response to short photoperiod during development and early adulthood in Siberian hamsters and the effects on reproduction as females age 
Hormones and behavior  2009;55(3):390-397.
Short day (SD) lengths delay puberty, suppress ovulation, inhibit sexual behavior, and decelerate reproductive aging in female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). To date, the modulation of the age-associated decline in reproductive outcomes has only been demonstrated in female hamsters experiencing different day lengths during development. To determine if developmental delay is necessary for photo-inhibition to decelerate reproductive aging, hamsters raised in LD were transferred to SD as young adults and remained there for 6 months. Females that demonstrated the most immediate and sustained photo-inhibition were found to have greater numbers of ovarian primordial follicles at advanced ages (9 and 12 months) than did females held in LD, nonresponders to SD, and females with a marginal SD-response. Similarly, for females raised in SD from conception to 6 months of age, prolonged developmental delay was associated with greater numbers of primordial follicles at later ages as compared to hamsters that became refractory to SD. A robust response to SD in juvenile and adult hamsters is associated with decelerated reproductive aging, which may result in greater reproductive success in older females as compared to age-matched individuals demonstrating a more modest response to SD.
PMCID: PMC2783221  PMID: 19470367
Photoperiod; reproductive aging; ovary
22.  Reductions in total body fat decrease humoral immunity. 
Mounting an immune response requires substantial energy, and it is well known that marked reductions in energy availability (e.g. starvation) can suppress immune function, thus increasing disease susceptibility and compromising survival. We tested the hypothesis that moderate reductions in energy availability impair humoral immunity. Specifically, we examined the effects of partial lipectomy (LIPx) on humoral immunity in two seasonally breeding rodent species, prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Animals received bilateral surgical removal of epididymal white adipose tissue (EWATx), inguinal white adipose tissue (IWATx) or sham surgeries and were injected with the antigen keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) either four or 12 weeks after surgery. In prairie voles, serum anti-KLH immunoglobulin G (IgG) did not differ significantly at four weeks. At 12 weeks, serum IgG was significantly reduced in IWATx, but not EWATx animals, compared with sham-operated animals. In Siberian hamsters, both IWATx and EWATx animals reduced serum IgG at four weeks. At 12 weeks, EWATx hamsters displayed a significant compensatory increase in IWAT pad mass compared with sham-operated hamsters, and serum IgG no longer differed from sham-operated animals. There was no significant increase in EWAT in IWATx hamsters compared with sham animals and IgG remained significantly reduced in IWATx hamsters. These results suggest that reductions in energy availability can impair humoral immunity.
PMCID: PMC1691330  PMID: 12803904
23.  Pelage insulation, litter size, and ambient temperature impact maternal energy intake and offspring development during lactation 
Physiology & behavior  2010;100(2):128-134.
Energy balance during lactation critically influences survival and growth of a mother’s offspring, and hence, her reproductive success. Most experiments have investigated the influence of a single factor (e.g., ambient temperature [Ta] or litter size) on the energetics of lactation. Here, we determined the impact of multiple interventions, including increased conductive heat loss consequent to dorsal fur removal, cold exposure (Ta of 5°C versus 23°C), and differential lactational load from litters of different sizes (2 or 4 pups), on maternal energy balance and offspring development of Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Lower Ta, fur removal, and larger litters were associated with increased maternal food consumption. Females exposed to multiple challenges (e.g., both fur loss and lower Ta) ate substantially more food than those exposed to a single challenge, with no apparent ceiling to elevated food intake (increases up to 538%). Thus, energy intake of dams under these conditions does not appear to be limited by feeding behavior or the size of the digestive tract. Housing at 5°C attenuated pup weight gain and increased pup mortality to more than 5 times that of litters housed at 23°C. Increases in the dam’s conductive heat loss induced by fur removal did not affect pup weight gain or survival, suggesting that effects of low Ta on pup weight gain and survival reflect limitations in the pups’ ability to ingest or incorporate energy.
PMCID: PMC2886721  PMID: 20184907
maternal care; thermoregulation; fur; food intake; Siberian hamster
24.  Housing condition alters immunological and reproductive responses to day length in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Hormones and behavior  2007;52(2):261-266.
During winter, increased thermoregulatory demands coincide with limited food availability necessitating physiological trade offs among expensive physiological processes resulting in seasonal breeding among small mammals. In the laboratory, short winter-like day lengths induce regression of the reproductive tract, but also enhance many aspects of immune function. It remains unspecified the extent to which bolstered immune responses in short days represent enhanced immune function per se compared to long days or represents energetic disinhibition mediated by the regression of the reproductive tract. Cohabitation of male Siberian hamsters with intact female conspecifics can block short-day reproductive regression. We sought to determine whether female cohabitation could also block the enhanced immune function associated with short days. Adult male Siberian hamsters were housed in long or short day lengths in one of three housing conditions: (1) single-housed, (2) housed with a same sex littermate, or (3) housed with an ovariectomized female. Delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) responses were assessed after 8 wk of photoperiod treatment. Housing with an ovariectomized female was not sufficient to block short-day reproductive regression, but prevented short-day enhancement of DTH responses. Housing with a male littermate did not alter reproductive or immune responses in either photoperiod. These data suggest that short day enhancement of immune function is independent of photoperiod-mediated changes in the reproductive system.
PMCID: PMC1955688  PMID: 17583707
Seasonality; photoperiodism; social-housing; immune function; Siberian hamsters; delayed-type hypersensitivity; steroid hormones
25.  Differential Activity of Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) During Photoperiod Induced Uterine Regression and Recrudescence in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Siberian hamsters adapt to seasonal changes by reducing their reproductive function during short days (SD). SD exposure reduces uterine mass and reproductive capacity, but underlying cellular mechanisms remain unknown. Because matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their tissue inhibitors (TIMPs) are important in uterine development, parturition, and postpartum remodeling, their expression in uterine tissue from Siberian hamsters undergoing photoperiod-mediated reproductive regression and recrudescence was investigated. Female hamsters were exposed to long day (LD, 16L:8D, controls) or SD (8L:16D) for 3–12 weeks (regression); a second group was exposed to SD or LD for 14 weeks and then transferred to LD for 0–8 weeks (recrudescence). Hamsters were euthanized, uteri collected, and homogenates analyzed by gelatin zymography or Western blotting for MMP and TIMP protein levels. Uterine weight decreased (67–75%) at SD weeks 12–14 and increased post-LD transfer (PT) reaching LD values by PT week 2. MMP-2, but not MMP-9 activity was reduced by SD week 12 or 14 but increased to LD levels at PT week 2. MMP-3 expression increased at SD week 9 compared to other SD and LD groups. MMP-14 and -13 protein levels decreased at SD week 3 but returned to LD levels by SD week 6. During recrudescence, MMP-3 (PT weeks 0–2), MMP-13 (PT week 4), and MMP-14 (PT weeks 2, 4) protein levels were higher than LD. TIMP-1 and 2 were present at low levels. Significant and differential variations in uterine MMP activity/expression during photoperiod-induced regression and recrudescence were observed. These changes likely reflect increases in tissue remodeling during both the adaptation to SD and the restoration of reproductive function.
PMCID: PMC2744607  PMID: 18213647
uterus; seasonal reproduction; protease; remodeling

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