Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) rely on photoperiod to coordinate seasonally appropriate changes in physiology, including immune function. Immunity is regulated, in part, by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), although the precise role of the SNS in regulating photoperiodic changes in immunity remains unspecified. The goal of the present study was to examine the contributions of norepinephrine (NE), the predominant neurotransmitter of the SNS, to photoperiodic changes in lymphocyte proliferation. In experiment 1, animals were maintained in long [16:8-h light-dark cycle (16:8 LD)] or short days (8:16 LD) for 10 wk, and splenic NE content was determined. In experiment 2, in vitro splenocyte proliferation in response to mitogenic stimulation (concanavalin A) was assessed in spleen cell suspensions taken from long- or short-day hamsters in which varying concentrations of NE were added to the cultures. In experiment 3, splenocyte proliferation was examined in the presence of NE and selective alpha- and beta-noradrenergic receptor antagonists (phenoxybenzamine and propranolol, respectively) in vitro. Short-day animals had increased splenic NE content compared with long-day animals. Long-day animals had higher proliferation compared with short-day animals independent of NE. NE (1 microM) further suppressed splenocyte proliferation in short but not long days. Last, NE-induced suppression of proliferation in short-day hamsters was blocked by propranolol but not phenoxybenzamine. The present results suggest that NE plays a role in photoperiodic changes in lymphocyte proliferation. Additionally, the data suggest that the effects of NE on proliferation are specific to activation of beta-adrenergic receptors located on splenic tissue. Collectively, these results provide further support that photoperiodic changes in immunity are influenced by changes in SNS activity.