The extent to which changes in ultradian and circadian rhythms (URs and CRs) reflect seasonal variations in pineal melatonin secretion was assessed in male Siberian hamsters transferred from long to short day lengths. The period of the locomotor activity UR increased from 2.5 h in long days to 4.5 h in short day lengths, but this and most other features of the short-day ultradian phenotype were unaffected by pinealectomy; only the short-day increase in UR amplitude was counteracted by pineal extirpation. Virtually all UR components were unaffected by gonadectomy or replacement testosterone or estradiol treatment; changes in testicular hormone secretion appear insufficient to account for seasonal fluctuation in URs. Pinealectomy did not affect activity onsets and offsets or phase angles of CR entrainment in short and long day lengths; the duration of nocturnal activity was equivalently longer in short than long days in both pinealectomized and pineal-intact hamsters. CR robustness of pinealectomized hamsters in short days was intermediate between values of long-day and short-day sham-pinealectomized males. Hourly nocturnal locomotor activity was markedly reduced in SD, and this effect was completely reversed by PINx. We conclude that seasonal transitions in UR and CR waveforms controlled by day length are mediated primarily by melatonin-independent mechanisms, with lesser contributions from melatonin-dependent processes. Most seasonal changes in ultradian and circadian rhythms in males of this species are not influenced by gonadal hormones. URs may allow animals to respond appropriately to changing environmental contingencies. In winter reduced activity combined with temporal restructuring of activity to include longer intervals of rest may be adaptive in maintaining body temperature at lower values and down-regulating energy expenditure when above ground temperatures are extremely low.
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