Circadian behavioral and melatonin rhythms in the European starling under light-dark cycles with steadily changing periods: Evidence for close mutual coupling?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Vinod Kumar, Thomas J. Van't Hof, Eberhard Gwinner
Hormones and Behavior
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In European starlings exposed to constant conditions, circadian rhythms in locomotion and feeding can occasionally exhibit complete dissociation from each other. Whether such occasional dissociation between two behavioral rhythms reflects on the strength of the mutual coupling of their internal oscillators has not been investigated. To examine this, as well as to elucidate the role of melatonin in this system, we simultaneously measured the rhythms of locomotion, feeding and melatonin secretion in starlings exposed to light-dark (LD) cycles of low intensity with steadily changing periods (T). In birds initially entrained to T 24 LD cycles (12L:12D, 10:0.2 lx), beginning on day 15, T was either lengthened to 26.5 h (experiment 1) or shortened to T 21.5 h (experiment 2) by changing the daily dark period 4 min each day. After 18 and 19 cycles of T 26.5 and T 21.5, respectively, birds were released into constant dim light conditions (LLdim; 0.2 lx) for about 2 weeks. Locomotor and feeding rhythms were continuously recorded. Plasma melatonin levels were measured at three times: in T 24, when T equaled 26 or 22 h and at the end of T 26.5 or T 21.5 exposure. The results show that, contrary to our expectations, the three rhythms were not dissociated. Rather they remained synchronized and changed their phase angle difference with the light zeitgeber concomitantly and at the same rate. The melatonin rhythm stayed in synchrony with the behavioral rhythms and as a consequence, peaked either during day or at night, depending on the phase relationship between the activity rhythm and the zeitgeber cycle.


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