The effects of photoperiod on olfactory c-fos expression in prairie voles,Microtus ochrogaster

Christopher A. Moffatt, Gregory F. Ball, Randy J. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reproduction stops among the majority of prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) during the winter. Short day lengths suppress male reproductive function dramatically in the laboratory, but photoperiod exerts only subtle effects on female reproductive function. Thus, the regulation of seasonal breeding in this species remains partially unspecified. In contrast to commonly studied rodents, female prairie voles do not undergo spontaneous estrous cycles; rather, they are induced into estrus by exposure to chemosignals expressed in conspecific male urine. In the present study, the hypothesis was tested that seasonal breeding among female prairie voles in the field reflects photoperiod-mediated changes in the responsiveness of the chemosensory system to male urine. Responsiveness was assessed by localizing the product of the c-fos immediate early gene with an immunocytochemical procedure. Female prairie voles were maintained in either long (LD 16:8) or short (LD 8:16) photoperiods from birth until adulthood, and exposed to either male urine or skim milk. Immunocytochemistry forfos protein revealed an increased number of immunoreactive cells within the accessory olfactory system of female prairie voles, including the accessory olfactory bulbs, granule cell layer, as well as the medial and cortical divisions of the amygdala 1 h after exposure to a single drop of urine as compared to individuals exposed to skim milk. The number of immunoreactivefos cells induced in females by conspecific male urine was also affected by photoperiod; short day females displayed fewer immunoreactivefos neurons in the accessory olfactory system as compared to long-day animal. Taken together, these results indicate that similar mechanisms underlie the responses of different rodent species to the chemosignals of conspecifics and that the pattern offos expression observed in the present study has functional significance for the regulation of reproduction in prairie voles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-88
Number of pages7
JournalBrain research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 17 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Accessory olfactory system
  • C-fos
  • Estrus
  • Female
  • Olfaction
  • Vole

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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