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Investigating metabolic control and sleep during photoperiod-induced torpor in Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)

Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics

Friday, January 22, 2021 Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is in collaboration between Oxford University and Novo Nordisk and funded by Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP. It will investigate metabolic and neurophysiological mechanisms of torpor in Siberian hamsters.

Torpor is a unique adaptation to harsh environmental conditions, characterised by a profound attenuation of physiological functions, wherein body temperature can drop to within a few degrees of ambient temperature. The expression of torpor is a strictly regulated process, and one that is readily reversible and without lasting consequences to the animal. Torpor can occur as a result of the metabolic challenge of limited food availability (fasting-induced daily torpor), but many species also enter torpor in anticipation of predictable seasonal changes in food availability and ambient temperature. In such cases, the primary environmental cue which triggers torpor is the change in day length (short photoperiod-induced or seasonal torpor). Whilst laboratory mice do not show seasonal physiology, Djungarian (Siberian) hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) reliably enter both short photoperiod-induced torpor, and also have the capacity for fasting-induced torpor.

The specific objectives of this project:

Aim 1: To investigate the effects of environmental variables, such as lighting conditions and ambient temperature on torpor in hamsters.
Aim 3: To address neuroendocrine mechanisms implicated in short photoperiod induced torpor in hamsters.
Aim 4: To investigate the relationship between sleep and metabolic regulation before and after torpor.
Aim 5: To identify brain areas and candidate genes involved in torpor control and regulation of hypometabolism using RNAseq analysis.

The project will be co-supervised by Professors Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, Stuart Peirson and David Ray (University of Oxford) in collaboration with Novo Nordisk. The project will commence in October 2021 and will be based within the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford.

Funding Notes

Information about entry requirements and eligibility as well as the application link can be found here: View Website - deadline 22 January 2021

Informal enquiries may be made to Professor Vladyslav Vyazovskiy at


1. Cubuk C, Markowsky H, Herwig A. Hypothalamic control systems show differential gene expression during spontaneous daily torpor and fasting-induced torpor in the Djungarian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). PLoS One. 2017; 12 (10): e0186299.
2. Vyazovskiy VV, Palchykova S, Achermann P, Tobler I, Deboer T. Different Effects of Sleep Deprivation and Torpor on EEG Slow-Wave Characteristics in Djungarian Hamsters. Cereb Cortex. 2017; 27 (2): 950-961.
3. Deboer T, Tobler I. Sleep regulation in the Djungarian hamster: comparison of the dynamics leading to the slow-wave activity increase after sleep deprivation and daily torpor. Sleep. 2003; 26 (5): 567-572.
4. Bank JHH, Wilson D, Rijntjes E, Barrett P, Herwig A. Alternation between short- and long photoperiod reveals hypothalamic gene regulation linked to seasonal body weight changes in Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). J Neuroendocrinol. 2017; 29 (7).
5. Freeman DA, Lewis DA, Kauffman AS, Blum RM, Dark J. Reduced leptin concentrations are permissive for display of torpor in Siberian hamsters. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2004; 287 (1): R97-R103.
6. Northeast RC, Vyazovskiy VV, Bechtold DA. Eat, sleep, repeat: the role of the circadian system in balancing sleep–wake control with metabolic need. Current Opinion in Physiology. 2020; 15: 183-191.

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