Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alerting or Somnogenic light - pick your color

Bourgin and Hubbard summarize work by Pilorz et al.
Light exerts profound effects on our physiology and behaviour, setting our biological clocks to the correct time and regulating when we are asleep and we are awake. The photoreceptors mediating these responses include the rods and cones involved in vision, as well as a subset of photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (pRGCs) expressing the blue light-sensitive photopigment melanopsin. Previous studies have shown that mice lacking melanopsin show impaired sleep in response to light. However, other studies have shown that light increases glucocorticoid release—a response typically associated with stress. To address these contradictory findings, we studied the responses of mice to light of different colours. We found that blue light was aversive, delaying sleep onset and increasing glucocorticoid levels. By contrast, green light led to rapid sleep onset. These different behavioural effects appear to be driven by different neural pathways. Surprisingly, both responses were impaired in mice lacking melanopsin. These data show that light can promote either sleep or arousal. Moreover, they provide the first evidence that melanopsin directly mediates the effects of light on glucocorticoids. This work shows the extent to which light affects our physiology and has important implications for the design and use of artificial light sources.

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