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Leptin, but not immune function, is linked to reproductive responsiveness to photoperiod.

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Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Group, Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biochemistry, and Reproductive Biology Division, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2686, USA.


Energetic demands are high while energy availability is minimum during winter. To cope with this energetic bottleneck, animals exhibit numerous energy-conserving adaptations during winter, including changes in immune and reproductive functions. A majority of individual rodents within a population inhibits reproductive function (responders) as winter approaches. A substantial proportion of small rodents within a species, however, fails to inhibit reproduction (nonresponders) during winter in the field or in the laboratory when maintained in winter-simulated day lengths. In contrast, immune function is bolstered by short day lengths in some species. The specific mechanisms that link reproductive and immune functions remain unspecified. Leptin is a hormone produced by adipose tissue, and several studies suggest that leptin modulates reproductive and immune functions. The present study sought to determine if photoperiodic alterations in reproductive function and leptin concentrations are linked to photoperiod-modulated changes in immune function. Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) were housed in either long (LD 16:8) or short (LD 8:16) day lengths for 9 wk. After 9 wk, blood samples were collected during the middle of the light and dark phase to assess leptin concentrations. One week later, animals were injected with keyhole limpet hemocyanin to evaluate humoral immunity. Body mass, body fat content, and serum leptin concentrations were correlated with reproductive responsiveness to photoperiod; short-day animals with regressed gonads exhibited a reduction in these measures, whereas short-day nonresponders resembled long-day animals. In contrast, immune function was influenced by photoperiod but not reproductive status. Taken together, these data suggest that humoral immune function in Siberian hamsters is independent of photoperiod-mediated changes in leptin concentrations.

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