Photoperiod influences the effects of exercise and food restriction on an antigen-specific immune response in Siberian hamsters.
Environmental conditions influence the onset and severity of illness and infection and may compromise survival. Energetically challenging conditions during winter may directly induce death through hypothermia, starvation, or shock. The ability to forecast and prepare for the arrival of challenging conditions associated with winter (e.g. low temperatures, decreased food) likely confers survival advantages. Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) stop reproduction and reduce body mass (approximately 25%) during short, winter-like day lengths, resulting in energetic savings. Hamsters also increase circulating glucocorticoids and lymphocytes (e.g. T cells, NK cells), and exhibit enhanced antigen-specific delayed-type-hypersensitivity (DTH) responses in the skin during short days (SDs). We tested the hypothesis that Siberian hamsters use SD lengths to signal the onset of winter to mediate the energetic trade-offs among body mass, reproductive function, and immune function. Long-day (LD; 16 h light, 8 h dark) and SD (8 h light, 16 h dark) hamsters were either food restricted (25%) or provided ad libitum (ad lib) food for 4 wk; half of all hamsters in each food condition had voluntary access to a running wheel, and half remained sedentary. SD hamsters enhanced DTH responses compared with LD hamsters under sedentary ad lib conditions. Exercise enhanced DTH in LD hamsters regardless of food intake. Furthermore, food-restriction did not significantly influence DTH in LD hamsters. In contrast, food-restriction suppressed DTH in SD hamsters regardless of activity condition, and exercise modestly enhanced DTH only in SD hamsters with ad lib access to food. In sum, moderate energetic deficiency suppressed DTH in SD (but not LD) hamsters, and this suggests that hamsters may have evolved to enhance immune responses during winter in preparation for increased metabolic stressors.
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