Towards an understanding of physiological body mass regulation: Seasonal Animal Models

Julian Mercer, Clare Lesley Adam, Peter John Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This review is based around a number of interlinked hypotheses that can be summarised as follows: (i) mammalian body mass is regulated, (ii) the mechanisms that effect this regulation are common to all mammalian species, including humans, (iii) the neurochemical substrates involved in long term body mass regulation and in determining the level of body mass that will be defended may not be the same as those involved in short term energy homeostasis, or body mass defence, or may be differentially engaged, and (iv) "appropriate" body mass is encoded somewhere within the mammalian brain and acts as a comparator to influence both nutritional and reproductive physiology. These issues are of direct relevance to the epidemic of obesity in the Westernised human population and the poor success rate of conventional weight loss strategies. It is our contention that seasonal rodent models, and the Siberian hamster in particular, represent extremely valuable tools for the study of the mechanistic basis of body mass regulation. The Siberian hamster model is often perceived as an unusual mammalian variant that has evolved an almost counter-intuitive strategy for surviving periods of anticipated seasonal food shortage. However, there is compelling evidence that these animals are able to adjust their body mass continually and progressively according to their photoperiodic history, i.e. a seasonally-appropriate body mass. These adjustments to appropriate body mass are memorised even after the animals have been driven away from their normal body mass trajectory by imposed food restriction. Thus, photoperiod, acting through the pineal hormone, melatonin, is able to reset the desired body mass for a given time in the seasonal cycle. Importantly, daylength provides a tool to manipulate the body mass control system in an entirely physiological and stress-free manner. While resetting of body mass by photoperiod represents a level of control apparently confined to seasonal mammals, it has the potential to reveal mechanisms of generic importance in the regulation of energy homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-320
Number of pages14
JournalNutritional Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2000


  • Phodopus
  • melatonin
  • photoperiod
  • body weight
  • set point
  • hypothalamic neuropeptides
  • leptin
  • Agouti-related protein
  • male Siberian hamster
  • normal female mice
  • gene-expression
  • food-intake
  • melatonin receptors
  • Djungarian hamster
  • energy homeostasis
  • ground-squirrels
  • leptin receptor
  • Melatonin
  • Photoperiod
  • Body weight Set point
  • Hypothalamic neuropeptides
  • Leptin


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