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J Biol Rhythms. 1985;1(1):77-89.

Development of hamster circadian rhythms: prenatal entrainment of the pacemaker.

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Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology of the Brain Research Institute, Los Angeles, California.


Individual hamster pups were maintained in constant dim light from just prior to birth, and their circadian wheel-running activity rhythms were recorded beginning at 18 days of age. Records of the postweaning free-running activity rhythm were used to determine the phase of a pup's rhythm on the day of weaning. Two groups of pups (LD and DL) were born to mothers that had been entrained before birth to light-dark cycles 12 hr out of phase. Both groups of pups were raised in constant dim light by foster mothers that had been entrained to only one of the prenatal cycles (LD). Thus pups born to mothers from different cycles were exposed to identical rhythmic environments postnatally. Despite the similar postnatal treatment, the two groups of pups showed activity rhythms at weaning with very different phases. The LD pups, born to and raised by LD mothers, were approximately synchronous with one another and with their foster mothers. The DL pups, born to DL mothers, but raised by LD mothers, were not synchronous with one another or with their foster mothers. Half of the DL pups showed phases predicted by their prenatal treatment, but the other half showed scattered phases. The results demonstrate that phase at weaning is affected by prenatal rhythmicity, and suggest that the circadian pacemaker underlying the activity rhythm is already functional and entrained at, or before, birth.

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