Photoperiodism in humans and other primates: evidence and implications

J Biol Rhythms. 2001 Aug;16(4):348-64. doi: 10.1177/074873001129002060.


Most of the anatomical and molecular substrates of the system that encodes changes in photoperiod in the duration of melatonin secretion, and the receptor molecules that read this signal, have been shown to be conserved in monkeys and humans, and the functions of this system appear to be intact from the level of the retina to the level of the melatonin-duration signal of change of season. While photoperiodic seasonal breeding has been shown to occur in monkeys, it remains unclear whether photoperiod and mediation of photoperiod's effects by melatonin influence human reproduction. Epidemiological evidence suggests that inhibition of fertility by heat in men in summer contributes to seasonal variation in human reproduction at lower latitudes and that stimulation of fertility by lengthening of the photoperiod in spring contributes to the variation at higher latitudes. Parallels between the seasonality of human reproduction and seasonal affective disorder suggest that they may be governed by common biological processes. Historical and experimental evidence indicates that human responses to seasonal changes in the natural photoperiod may have been more robust prior to the Industrial Revolution and that subsequently they have been increasingly suppressed by alterations of the physical environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chronobiology Phenomena / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Photoperiod*
  • Primates / physiology*


  • Melatonin