Photoperiodic time measurement and seasonal immunological plasticity

Tyler J. Stevenson, Brian J. Prendergast

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Seasonal variations in immunity are common in nature, and changes in day length are sufficient to trigger enhancement and suppression of immune function in many vertebrates. Drawing primarily on data from Siberian hamsters, this review describes formal and physiological aspects of the neuroendocrine regulation of seasonal changes in mammalian immunity. Photoperiod regulates immunity in a trait-specific manner, and seasonal changes in gonadal hormone secretion and thyroid hormone signaling all participate in seasonal immunomodulation. Photoperiod-driven changes in the hamster reproductive and immune systems are associated with changes in iodothyronine deiodinase-mediated thyroid hormone signaling, but photoperiod exerts opposite effects on select aspects of the epigenetic regulation of reproductive neuroendocrine and lymphoid tissues. Photoperiodic changes in immunocompetence may explain a proportion of the annual variance in disease incidence and severity in nature, and provide a useful framework to help understand brain-immune interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-88
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology
Early online date27 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by NIH Grant AI-67406 from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We thank George Bentley for comments on a draft of the manuscript.


  • hamster
  • reproduction
  • immune function
  • melatonin
  • thyroid hormones
  • epigentic


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