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Photoperiodism is a biological phenomenon in which environmental day length is monitored to ascertain time of year to engage in seasonally appropriate adaptations. This trait is common among organisms living outside of the tropics. White-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) are small photoperiodic rodents which display a suite of adaptive responses to short day lengths, including reduced hippocampal volume, impairments in hippocampal-mediated memory, and enhanced hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity. Because these photoperiodic changes in brain and behavior mirror some of the etiology of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we hypothesized that photoperiod may also alter fear memory and neuronal morphology within the hippocampus-basolateral amygdala-prefrontal cortex fear circuit. Ten weeks of exposure to short days increased fear memory in an auditory-cued fear conditioning test. Short days also increased dendritic spine density of the neurons of the basolateral amygdala, without affecting morphology of pyramidal neurons within the infralimbic region of the medial prefrontal cortex. Taken together, photoperiodic phenotypic changes in brain morphology and physiology induced by a single environmental factor, exposure to short day lengths, affect responses to fearful stimuli in white-footed mice. These results have potential implications for understanding seasonal changes in fear responsiveness, as well as for expanding translational animal models for studying gene-environment interactions underlying psychiatric diseases, such as PTSD. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


James C Walton, Achikam Haim, James M Spieldenner, Randy J Nelson. Photoperiod alters fear responses and basolateral amygdala neuronal spine density in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus). Behavioural brain research. 2012 Aug 01;233(2):345-50

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PMID: 22652395

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