The underlying mechanisms of vertebrate seasonal reproduction

Proc Jpn Acad Ser B Phys Biol Sci. 2019;95(7):343-357. doi: 10.2183/pjab.95.025.


Animals make use of changes in photoperiod to adapt their physiology to the forthcoming breeding season. Comparative studies have contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms of seasonal reproduction in vertebrates. Birds are excellent models for studying these phenomena because of their rapid and dramatic responses to changes in photoperiod. Deep brain photoreceptors in birds perceive and transmit light information to the pars tuberalis (PT) in the pituitary gland, where the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is produced. This PT-TSH locally increases the level of the bioactive thyroid hormone T3 via the induction of type 2 deiodinase production in the mediobasal hypothalamus, and an increased T3 level, in turn, controls seasonal gonadotropin-releasing hormone secretion. In mammals, the eyes are the only photoreceptive structure, and nocturnal melatonin secretion encodes day-length information and regulates the PT-TSH signaling cascade. In Salmonidae, the saccus vasculosus plays a pivotal role as a photoperiodic sensor. Together, these studies have uncovered the universality and diversity of fundamental traits in vertebrates.

Keywords: circadian clock; opsin; photoperiodism; photoreceptor; thyroid hormone; thyrotropin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Photoperiod
  • Reproduction*
  • Seasons*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vertebrates / physiology*