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How does day length affect aggression in mice? It's in the genes

COLUMBUS, Ohio Imagine if a naturally occurring chemical in your body could help make you feel more calm and relaxed but it would only work during the long days of summer.

The same chemical would, instead, make you aggressive and nasty when you were exposed to less daylight during the winter.

That's exactly what occurs for a specific species of mouse, according to a new study at Ohio State University, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers found that the class of hormones called estrogens acts to increase aggression in the Oldfield Mouse (Peromyscus polionotus) during the short days of winter. However, when daylight increases in the summer, estrogen decreases aggression among male Oldfield mice, a species commonly found in the southeastern United States.

The finding is significant because it is one of the first studies to show how a very simple environmental factor in this case, the length of daylight can have a powerful effect on how genes influence behavior, at least in some species.

"We found that estrogen has totally opposite effects on behavior in these mice depending only on how much light they got each day," said Brian Trainor, co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow in psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University.

"It is quite a surprising finding."

While other studies have examined how environment interacts with genes to influence behavior, most of these studies have examined very complex environmental conditions, said Randy Nelson, co-author and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State.

"We're looking at a very simple environmental factor influencing a complex behavior," Nelson said. "In these mice, day length controls the gene expression that influences aggression."

In one study, male mice were castrated to stop production of testosterone. They then were fitted with im
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Contact: Randy Nelson
Rnelson@osu.edu
614-292-7005
Ohio State University
21-May-2007


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