Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) undergo reproductive involution following exposure to short winter day lengths. Following approximately 20 weeks of exposure to short day (SD) lengths, hamsters become refractory to the inhibitory effects of SD, and reproductive competence is restored in anticipation of spring. The extent to which changes in gonadal steroid-dependent and -independent regulation of gonadotrophin secretion participate in this vernal reactivation of the gonads is not known. This experiment tested whether tonic and gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH)-stimulated regulation of lutenising hormone (LH) secretion differs between photoresponsive and photorefractory Siberian hamsters. Male hamsters born into long day (LD) lengths were castrated or subjected to a sham-castration surgery at 17 days of age, implanted s.c. with blank or testosterone-filled capsules, and housed in LD or SD thereafter. Baseline LH and LH responses to GnRH (200 ng/kg, s.c) were measured at 14 (photoresponsive) and 40 (photorefractory) weeks of age. Despite lower circulating testosterone concentrations in gonadally regressed SD hamsters on week 14, tonic LH concentrations were comparable among all groups of gonad-intact hamsters on weeks 14 and 40; however, week 14 SD hamsters exhibited significantly higher GnRH-stimulated LH responses. Tonic LH concentrations were indistinguishable among all groups of castrated hamsters bearing empty implants on week 14, but prolonged exposure to LD led to a decrease in resting LH, whereas prolonged exposure to SD resulted in an increase in LH. In castrated hamsters bearing testosterone implants, baseline LH concentrations were comparable in all groups, but GnRH treatment resulted in significantly higher LH concentrations in photorefractory (week 40, SD) hamsters relative to all other groups. The data suggest that the development of photorefractoriness in Siberian hamsters is characterised by enhanced gonadal hormone-independent stimulation of LH secretion, and diminished sensitivity to inhibitory negative-feedback effects of testosterone on LH secretion. Decreases in responsiveness of gonadotrophin secretion to gonadal hormone negative feedback may contribute to the process of photorefractoriness and assist in maintaining the growth of reproductive organs during the process of gonadal recrudescence.