Variation in circadian rhythms and nocturnality may, hypothetically, be related to or independent of genetic variation in photoperiodic mediation of seasonal changes in physiology and behavior. We hypothesized that strain variation in photoperiodism between photoperiodic F344 rats and nonphotoperiodic Harlan Sprague Dawley (HSD) rats might be caused by underlying variation in clock function. We predicted that HSD rats would have more activity during the day or subjective day, longer free-running rhythms, poor entrainment to short day length, and shorter duration of activity, traits that have been associated with nonphotoperiodism in other laboratory rodent species, relative to F344 rats. An alternative hypothesis, that differences are due to variation in melatonin secretion or responses to melatonin, predicts either no such differences or inconsistent combinations of differences.
We tested these predictions by examining activity rhythms of young male F344 and HSD rats given access to running wheels in constant dark (DD), short day length (L8:D16; SD), and long day length (L16:D8; LD). We compared nocturnality (the proportion of activity during night or subjective night), duration of activity (alpha), activity onset and offset, phase angle of entrainment, and free running rhythms (tau) of F344 and HSD rats.
HSD rats had significantly greater activity during the day, were sometimes arrhythmic in DD, and had significantly longer tau than F344 rats, consistent with predictions. However, HSD rats had significantly longer alpha than F344 rats and both strains entrained to SD, inconsistent with predictions.
The ability of HSD rats to entrain to SD, combined with longer alpha than F344 rats, suggests that the circadian system of HSD rats responds correctly to SD. These data offer best support for the alternative hypothesis, that differences in photoresponsiveness between F344 and HSD rats are caused by non-circadian differences in melatonin secretion or the response to melatonin.||en_US