Photoperiod, or length of day, has a predictable annual cycle, making it an important cue for the timing of seasonal behavior and development in many organisms. Photoperiod is widely used among temperate and polar animals to regulate the timing of sexual maturation. The proper sensing and interpretation of photoperiod can be tightly tied to an organism's overall fitness. In photoperiodic mammals and birds the thyroid hormone pathway initiates sexual maturation, but the degree to which this pathway is conserved across other vertebrates is not well known. We use the threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, as a representative teleost to quantify the photoperiodic response of key genes in the thyroid hormone pathway under controlled laboratory conditions. We find that the photoperiodic responses of the hormones are largely consistent amongst multiple populations, although differences suggest physiological adaptation to various climates. We conclude that the thyroid hormone pathway initiates sexual maturation in response to photoperiod in G. aculeatus, and our results show that more components of this pathway are conserved among mammals, birds, and teleost fish than was previously known. However, additional endocrinology, cell biology and molecular research will be required to define precisely which aspects of the pathway are conserved across vertebrates. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
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