Pineal-dependent and -independent effects of photoperiod on immune function in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)

Jarvi C. Wen, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Brian J. Prendergast

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-39
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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