This article is part of a Special Issue “Energy Balance”.
Seasonal cycles of adiposity and body weight reflecting changes in both food intake and energy expenditure are the norm in mammals that have evolved in temperate and polar habitats. Innate circannual rhythmicity and direct responses to the annual change in photoperiod combine to ensure that behavior and energy metabolism are regulated in anticipation of altered energetic demands such as the energetically costly processes of hibernation, migration, and lactation. In the last decade, major progress has been made into identifying the central mechanisms that underlie these profound long-term changes in behavior and physiology. Surprisingly they are distinct from the peptidergic and aminergic systems in the hypothalamus that have been identified in studies of the laboratory mouse and rat and implicated in timing meal intervals and in short-term responses to caloric restriction. Comparative studies across rodents, ungulates and birds reveal that tanycytes embedded in the ependymal layer of the third ventricle play a critical role in seasonal changes because they regulate the local availability of thyroid hormone. Understanding how this altered hormonal environment might regulate neurogenesis and plasticity in the hypothalamus should provide new insight into development of strategies to manage appetite and body weight.