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Endocrinology. 2013 Apr;154(4):1501-12. doi: 10.1210/en.2012-1921. Epub 2013 Feb 25.

Gonadal- and sex-chromosome-dependent sex differences in the circadian system.

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Department of Neurobiology, University of California LosAngeles, Los Angeles, California 90024, USA.


Compelling reasons to study the role of sex in the circadian system include the higher rates of sleep disorders in women than in men and evidence that sex steroids modulate circadian control of locomotor activity. To address the issue of sex differences in the circadian system, we examined daily and circadian rhythms in wheel-running activity, electrical activity within the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and PER2::LUC-driven bioluminescence of gonadally-intact adult male and female C57BL/6J mice. We observed greater precision of activity onset in 12-hour light, 12-hour dark cycle for male mice, longer activity duration in 24 hours of constant darkness for female mice, and phase-delayed PER2::LUC bioluminescence rhythm in female pituitary and liver. Next, in order to investigate whether sex differences in behavior are sex chromosome or gonadal sex dependent, we used the 4 core genotypes (FCG) mouse model, in which sex chromosome complement is independent of gonadal phenotype. Gonadal males had more androgen receptor expression in the suprachiasmatic nucleus and behaviorally reduced photic phase shift response compared with gonadal female FCG mice. Removal of circulating gonadal hormones in adults, to test activational vs organizational effects of sex revealed that XX animals have longer activity duration than XY animals regardless of gonadal phenotype. Additionally, we observed that the activational effects of gonadal hormones were more important for regulating activity levels in gonadal male mice than in gonadal female FCG mice. Taken together, sex differences in the circadian rhythms of activity, neuronal physiology, and gene expression were subtle but provide important clues for understanding the pathophysiology of the circadian system.

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