Dissociation of Puberty and Adolescent Social Development in a Seasonally Breeding Species

Curr Biol. 2018 Apr 2;28(7):1116-1123.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.030. Epub 2018 Mar 15.


Alongside the development of sexual characteristics and reproductive competence, adolescents undergo marked cognitive, social, and emotional development [1]. A fundamental question is whether these changes are triggered by activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis at puberty (puberty dependent) or whether they occur independently of HPG activation (puberty independent). Disentangling puberty-dependent from puberty-independent mechanisms is difficult because puberty and adolescence typically proceed concurrently. Here, we test a new approach that leverages natural adaptations of a seasonally breeding species to dissociate pubertal status from chronological age. Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) reared in a long, summer-like day length (LD) exhibit rapid pubertal development, whereas those reared in a short, winter-like day length (SD) delay puberty by several months to synchronize breeding with the following spring [2, 3]. We tested whether the SD-induced delay in puberty delays the peri-adolescent decline in juvenile social play and the rise in aggression that characterizes adolescent social development in many species [4-6] and compared the results to those obtained after prepubertal gonadectomy. Neither SD rearing nor prepubertal gonadectomy altered the age at which hamsters transitioned from play to aggression; SD-reared hamsters completed this transition prior to puberty. SD rearing and prepubertal gonadectomy, however, increased levels of play in male and female juveniles, implicating a previously unknown role for prepubertal gonadal hormones in juvenile social behavior. Levels of aggression were also impacted (decreased) in SD-reared and gonadectomized males. These data demonstrate that puberty-independent mechanisms regulate the timing of adolescent social development, while prepubertal and adult gonadal hormones modulate levels of age-appropriate social behaviors.

Keywords: Siberian hamster; aggression; gonadal hormones; social play.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Breeding*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Phodopus
  • Photoperiod
  • Reproduction
  • Seasons*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones