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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Jun;1021:262-75.

Pubertal development of sex differences in circadian function: an animal model.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 525 E. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109, USA. terrilee@umich.edu


The development of adult circadian function, particularly sexual dimorphism of function, has been well studied only in rapidly developed rodents. In such species development is complete by weaning. Data from adolescent humans suggest that significant development occurs during the pubertal period. We hypothesized that a more slowly developing rodent might better mimic the changes in circadian function around puberty in humans and allow us to determine the underlying neural changes. Entrained and free-running circadian rhythms were analyzed and correlated with pubertal development in male and female Octodon degus (degu) that remained gonadally intact or were gonadectomized at weaning. Brains were collected during development to measure androgen and estrogen receptors in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) Adult circadian period does not develop until 10-12 months of age in degus, long after the onset of gonadal maturation (3-5 months). The timing of circadian period maturation correlates with the appearance of steroid receptors in the SCN. Changes in free-running rhythms only occurred in gonadally intact degus. Adult phase angles of activity onset develop between 2 and 3 months of age (comparing results of two experiments), soon after the onset of pubertal changes.


The development of sexually dimorphic adult circadian period occurs after gonadal puberty is complete and requires the presence of gonadal steroids. The delay in development until after gonadal puberty is likely due to the delayed appearance of steroid receptors in the SCN. Phase is not sexually dimorphic and changes in the absence of steroid hormones.

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