Photoperiod and Testosterone Interact to Drive Seasonal Changes in Kisspeptin Expression in Siberian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)

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Kisspeptin, a neuropeptide product of the KiSS-1 gene, has recently been implicated in the regulation of seasonal breeding in a number of species, including Siberian hamsters. In this species, kisspeptin expression is reduced in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV) following exposure to inhibitory day lengths, and exogenous kisspeptin activates the reproductive neuroendocrine axis of reproductively quiescent animals. Because sex steroids can impact kisspeptin expression, it is unclear whether changes in kisspeptin occur in direct response to photoperiodic cues or secondarily in response to changes in sex steroid concentrations resulting from the transition to reproductive quiescence. The present study aimed to assess the relative contributions of photoperiod and testosterone in regulating kisspeptin expression in Siberian hamsters. Animals housed in long or short day lengths for 8 weeks were either castrated or received sham surgeries. Half of the hamsters in each photoperiod were given testosterone to mimic long-day sex steroid concentrations. The results obtained indicate that kisspeptin neurones in the AVPV and arcuate nuclei were influenced by both photoperiod and testosterone. In the AVPV, removal of testosterone or exposure to inhibitory day lengths led to a marked reduction in kisspeptin-immunoreactive cells, and testosterone treatment increased cell numbers across conditions. Importantly, long-day castrates exhibited significantly more kisspeptin cells than short-day castrates or intact short-day animals with empty capsules, suggesting the influences of photoperiod, independent of gonadal steroids. In general, the opposite pattern emerged for the arcuate nuclei. Collectively, these data suggest a role for both gonadal-dependent and independent (i.e. photoperiodic) mechanisms regulating seasonal changes in kisspeptin expression in Siberian hamsters.

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