Photoperiod is the major regulator of reproduction in temperate-zone mammals. Laboratory rats are generally considered to be nonphotoresponsive, but young male Fischer 344 (F344) rats have a uniquely robust response to short photoperiods of 8 h of light. Rats transferred at weaning from a photoperiod of 16 h to photoperiods of < 14 h of light slowed in both reproductive development and somatic growth rate. Those in photoperiods < 13 h of light underwent the strongest responses. The critical photoperiod of F344 rats can be defined as 13.5 h of light, but photoperiods of ≤ 12.5 h are required to fully suppress reproduction and somatic growth. This demonstrates that the 12-h photoperiod that is standard in some laboratory colonies would have significant effects on reproductive maturation and growth rate of this common rat strain. Young F344 rats in decreasing photoperiods that mimic natural change experienced delayed reproductive development and decreased growth rate to a greater extent and for a longer duration than those transferred at birth to a short photoperiod. The effects of gradual changes in photoperiod persisted for at least 12 wk after weaning. This indicates that young male F344 rats possess responses to photoperiod that would result in functional photoperiodism in a wild mammal.
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