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Day length (photoperiod) is a powerful synchroniser of seasonal changes in the reproductive neuroendocrine activity in temperate-zone birds. When exposed to light during the photoinducible phase, reproductive neuroendocrine responses occur. However, the neuroendocrine systems involved in avian reproduction are poorly understood. We investigated the effect of light exposure at different circadian times upon the hypothalamus and components of the circadian system, using c-fos mRNA expression, measured by in situ hybridisation, as an indicator of light-induced neuronal activity. Levels of c-fos mRNA in these areas were compared after turkey hens (on a daily 6-h light period) had been exposed to a 30-min period of light occurring at 8, 14, or 20 h after the onset of first light of the day (subjective dawn). Non-photostimulated control birds were harvested at the same times. In birds, photostimulated within the photoinducibile phase (14 h), in contrast to before or after, c-fos mRNA was significantly increased in the nucleus commissurae pallii (nCPa), nucleus premamillaris (PMM), eminentia mediana (ME), and organum vasculosum lamina terminalis (OVLT). Photostimulation increased c-fos mRNA expression in the pineal gland, nucleus suprachiasmaticus, pars visualis (vSCN) and nucleus inferioris hypothalami compared to that of their corresponding nonphotostimulated controls. However, the magnitudes of the responses in these areas were similar irrespective of where in the dark period the pulses occurred. No c-fos mRNA was induced in the nucleus infundibulari, in response to the 30-min light period at any of the circadian times tested. The lack of c-fos up-regulation in the pineal gland and vSCN following photostimulation during the photoinducible phase lends credence to the hypothesis that these areas are not involved in the photic initiation of avian reproduction. On the other hand, c-fos mRNA increases in the nCPa, ME, and OVLT support other studies showing that these areas are involved in the onset of reproductive behaviour initiated by long day lengths. The present study provides novel data showing that the PMM in the caudal hypothalamus is involved in the neuronally mediated, light-induced initiation of reproductive activity in the turkey hen.