Photoperiod and thermoregulation in vertebrates: body temperature rhythms and thermogenic acclimation

J Biol Rhythms. Summer 1989;4(2):251-65.


Evidence has recently begun to accumulate that photoperiodic responses of mammals and birds may affect the control of energy balance and thermoregulation. Exposure to short photoperiod can lower the set point for body temperature regulation in birds and mammals, as well as the voluntarily selected body temperature in ectothermic lizards. This decrease is accompanied by a reorganization of circadian or ultradian rhythms of body temperature, particularly an increase in periods spent at rest with minimum body temperatures. Short photoperiod is also used as an environmental cue for induction of seasonal torpor or facilitation of hibernation. During winter, cold tolerance of small mammals is improved by an increase of nonshivering thermogenesis in brown fat. Thermogenic capacity of brown fat (respiratory enzymes, mitochondria, uncoupling protein) is enhanced in response to short photoperiod. This response is mediated via an increase in the activity of sympathetic innervation in brown fat. Moreover, an exposure to short photoperiod prior to low temperatures may act in preparing brown fat for facilitated thermogenesis during acclimation to cold. This shows that photoperiodic control not only affects energy balance indirectly via the control of reproduction or body mass, but may directly interact with central control of thermoregulation and may influence the process of acclimatization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activity Cycles
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Hibernation
  • Light*
  • Lizards / physiology
  • Periodicity*
  • Seasons
  • Vertebrates / physiology*