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Ciba Found Symp. 1985;117:116-28.

Photic influences on the developing mammal.


In adult mammals, the daily light-dark cycle acts via the retinohypothalamic pathway to entrain the circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) and to communicate information about daylength to photoperiodic species. Studies in rats show that during late fetal and early neonatal life, before the retinohypothalamic pathway has innervated the SCN, the maternal circadian system entrains the timing of the developing clock to prevailing lighting conditions. Although the nature of the maternal output signal(s) used to entrain the developing clock has not been elucidated, the maternal SCN are a necessary component of maternal entrainment during both prenatal and postnatal life. Maternal entrainment of the fetal and neonatal clock thus ensures that the developing circadian system is synchronized to the outside world until maturation of the retinohypothalamic pathway permits direct photic entrainment. The maternal circadian system is not only necessary for entrainment of the developing circadian system, but recent studies suggest it may also provide the immature mammal with important photoperiodic information. In the montane vole (Microtus montanus) and the Djungarian hamster (Phodopus sungorus), the prenatal photoperiod affects postnatal photoperiodic responses, and cross-fostering experiments show that this information about daylength is perceived by the fetus. This prenatal information, in conjunction with postnatal perception of photoperiod, allows the developing animal to determine which way the season is changing and to modify the rate of reproductive maturation accordingly.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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