Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 175, Issue 3, pp 167–183 | Cite as

Seasonal variations in circadian rhythms coincide with a phase of sensitivity to short photoperiods in the European hamster

  • Stefanie MoneckeEmail author
  • Franziska Wollnik
Original Paper


European hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) show pronounced seasonal changes in their physiology and behavior. The present study provides a detailed analysis of the temporal relationship between seasonal cycles of reproduction and body mass and seasonal changes of two circadian parameters, i.e., locomotor activity and 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) excretion, in individual animals kept under natural light conditions. Our results demonstrate a characteristic pattern of locomotor activity and aMT6s excretion observed around the summer solstice, i.e., from mid-May to mid-July. During this time, locomotor activity was characterized by a high level of activity and an early activity onset, while the nightly elevation of melatonin was reduced to baseline levels. These seasonal changes in aMT6s excretion and locomotor activity were only loosely related to changes in the reproductive status of the animals, but correlated well with a period of the annual cycle during which the animals were sensitive to short days. They may therefore reflect a specific state of the circadian pacemaker system within the SCN and can thus be a valuable tool to further characterize molecular and physiological mechanisms of photoperiodic time measurements in European hamsters.


Seasonal rhythms Body mass Reproduction Melatonin Activity 





Alpha (activity duration)


Phase angle of activity onset


Phase angle of activity offset



We wish to thank Harald Feuchter for expert animal care, Angeline Votteler for technical assistance with the aMT6s and creatinine assays, and André Malan, UMR-CNRS 7518, Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, for his valuable methodological help with the logistic peak fitting and the segmented regression analysis. This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The studies were performed in accordance with the European Communities Council Directive of 24 November 1986 (86/609/EEC) and German law.


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© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biological Institute, Department of Animal PhysiologyUniversity of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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