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Horm Behav. 2011 Jun;60(1):46-57. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Changes in circadian rhythms during puberty in Rattus norvegicus: developmental time course and gonadal dependency.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0520, USA.


During puberty, humans develop a later chronotype, exhibiting a phase-delayed daily rest/activity rhythm. The purpose of this study was to determine: 1) whether similar changes in chronotype occur during puberty in a laboratory rodent species, 2) whether these changes are due to pubertal hormones affecting the circadian timekeeping system. We tracked the phasing and distribution of wheel-running activity rhythms during post-weaning development in rats that were gonadectomized before puberty or left intact. We found that intact peripubertal rats had activity rhythms that were phase-delayed relative to adults. Young rats also exhibited a bimodal nocturnal activity distribution. As puberty progressed, bimodality diminished and late-night activity phase-advanced until it consolidated with early-night activity. By late puberty, intact rats showed a strong, unimodal rhythm that peaked at the beginning of the night. These pubertal changes in circadian phase were more pronounced in males than females. Increases in gonadal hormones during puberty partially accounted for these changes, as rats that were gonadectomized before puberty demonstrated smaller phase changes than intact rats and maintained ultradian rhythms into adulthood. We investigated the role of photic entrainment by comparing circadian development under constant and entrained conditions. We found that the period (τ) of free-running rhythms developed sex differences during puberty. These changes in τ did not account for pubertal changes in entrained circadian phase, as the consolidation of activity at the beginning of the subjective night persisted under constant conditions in both sexes. We conclude that the circadian system continues to develop in a hormone-sensitive manner during puberty.

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