Gonadal hormone-dependent and -independent regulation of immune function by photoperiod in Siberian hamsters

Brian J. Prendergast, Scott R. Baillie, Firdaus S. Dhabhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) exhibit changes in reproductive and immune function in response to seasonal variations in day length. Exposure to short days induces gonadal regression and inhibits testosterone secretion. In parallel, short days enhance immune function: increasing leukocyte numbers and attenuating cytokine and behavioral responses to infection. We examined whether photoperiodic changes in leukocyte phenotypes and sickness behaviors are dependent on concurrent photoperiodic changes in gonadal function. Male hamsters were gonadectomized or sham-gonadectomized and either exposed to short days (9 h light/day; SD) or kept in their natal long-day (15 h light/day; LD) photoperiod for 10-13 wk. Blood samples were obtained for leukocyte enumeration, and hamsters were challenged with bacterial LPS, which induced behavioral (anorexia, reductions in nest building) and somatic (weight loss) sickness responses. Among gonad-intact hamsters, exposure to SD increased total and CD62L+ lymphocytes and CD3+ T lymphocytes in blood and significantly attenuated LPS-induced sickness responses. Independent of photoperiod, castration alone increased total and CD62L+ lymphocyte and CD3+ T lymphocyte numbers and attenuated somatic and anorexic sickness responses. Among castrated hamsters, SD exposure increased lymphocyte numbers and suppressed sickness behaviors. In castrated hamsters, the magnitude of most immunological effects of SD were diminished relative to those evident in gonad-intact hamsters. The SD phenotype in several measures of immunity can be instated via elimination of gonadal hormones alone; however, photoperiodic effects on immune function persist even in castrated hamsters. Thus, photoperiod affects the immune system and neural-immune interactions underlying sickness behaviors via gonadal hormone-dependent and -independent mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R384-R392
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Infection
  • Neural-immune interactions
  • Seasonality
  • Sickness behaviors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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