Hypothalamic Gene Expression Rapidly Changes in Response to Photoperiod in Juvenile Siberian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)


Perry Barrett, Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Greenburn Road, Buckburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK (e-mail: p.barrett@abdn.ac.uk).


Siberian hamsters are seasonal mammals that survive a winter climate by making adaptations in physiology and behaviour. This includes gonadal atrophy, reduced food intake and body weight. The underlying central mechanisms responsible for the physiological adaptations are not fully established but involve reducing hypothalamic tri-iodthyronine (T3) levels. Juvenile Siberian hamsters born or raised in short days (SD) respond in a similar manner, although with an inhibition of gonadal development and growth instead of reversing an established long day (LD) phenotype. Using juvenile male hamsters, the present study aimed to investigate whether the central mechanisms are similar before the establishment of the mature LD phenotype. By in situ hybridisation, we examined the response of genes involved in thyroid hormone (Dio2 and Dio3, which determine hypothalamic T3 levels) and glucose/glutamate metabolism in the ependymal layer, histamine H3 receptor and VGF as representatives of the highly responsive dorsomedial posterior arcuate nucleus (dmpARC), and somatostatin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in regulating the growth axis. Differential gene expression of type 2 and type 3 deiodinase in the ependymal layer, histamine H3 receptor in the dmpARC and somatostatin in the ARC was established by the eighth day in SD. These changes are followed by alterations in glucose metabolism related genes in the ependymal layer by day 16 and increased secretogranin expression in the dmpARC by day 32. In conclusion, our data demonstrate similar but rapid and highly responsive changes in gene expression in the brain of juvenile Siberian hamsters in response to a switch from LD to SD. The data also provide a temporal definition of gene expression changes relative to physiological adaptations of body weight and testicular development and highlight the likely importance of thyroid hormone availability as an early event in the adaptation of physiology to a winter climate in juvenile Siberian hamsters.