Food anticipatory activity (FAA) rhythms that emerge in nocturnal rodents fed once daily are mediated by food-entrainable circadian oscillators (FEOs) located outside of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the site of a circadian pacemaker required for entrainment to daily light-dark (LD) cycles. Specification of the neural and molecular substrates of FEOs driving FAA is complicated by homeostatic, hedonic and environmental factors that can modulate expression of activity independent of circadian timing. Here, we examined the effect of photoperiod (duration of the daily light period) on FAA in mice fed during the last 4 h or middle 4 h of the light period for at least 5 weeks. Long photoperiods decrease SCN pacemaker amplitude, which may favor expression of FAA during the day, when the SCN normally opposes activity in nocturnal rodents. To test this prediction, in Experiment 1, mice housed with or without running discs were entrained to 24 h LD cycles with 8 h (L8) or 16 h (L16) photoperiods. When food was restricted to the last 4 h of the light period (late-day), mice housed with running discs showed more FAA in L16, whereas mice without running discs showed more FAA in L8. In Experiment 2, mice were entrained to L8 or L16 photoperiods, and the 4 h daily meal was centered in the light period (mid-day). FAA was decreased relative to late-day fed mice, but did not vary by photoperiod. In Experiment 3, mice with or without running discs were entrained to L12 or L18 photoperiods, with mealtime centered in the light period. FAA again did not differ between photoperiods. In constant dark (DD) prior to food restriction, the period (τ) of free-running rhythms was shorter in mice entrained to long days. This known after-effect of photoperiod on τ was absent in DD immediately following restricted feeding. The phase of LD entrainment, unmasked on the first day of DD with food ad-libitum, was significantly advanced in mice from the late-day feeding schedule, compared to mice from the mid-day schedules. These results indicate that FAA in mice does not vary systematically with photoperiod, possibly because daytime feeding schedules attenuate the effect of photoperiod on the mouse SCN pacemaker. FAA in the present study was more strongly influenced by running disc availability and by meal time within the light period, possibly due to effects on LD entrainment, which was phase advanced by late-day but not midday feeding.
Keywords: Circadian rhythms; Food entrainment; Food-anticipatory activity; Light-dark entrainment; Photoperiod; Running activity.
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