In an article published in the January 10, 2003, issue of the journal Science, the researchers report that the molecule melanopsin is necessary in order for the pupil to constrict properly in response to light, a function termed the pupillary light reflex.
The latest findings by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator King-Wai Yau at Johns Hopkins University and his colleagues from Imperial College in London and Brown University build on studies they published last year in which they traced the neural circuitry for this newly discovered light-sensing pathway that is distinct from the primary visual pathway.
In those studies, Yau and his colleagues showed that the neural circuitry is constructed of a small subset of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain. These RGCs project specifically to brain centers involved in circadian-pacemaker activity and the pupillary light reflex, accessory visual functions that do not require image-formation on the retina. Biological, or circadian, clocks operate on a roughly 24-hour cycle that governs sleeping and waking, rest and activity, body temperature, cardiac output, oxygen consumption and endocrine gland secretion. In mammals, the internal circadian clock resides in the brain, and sunlight is the cue that resets this clock daily.
Improved understanding of the circadian system could lead to better treatments for jet lag and depression, and may help optimize drug treatments affected by changes in hormone levels.
Although earlier studies had indicated that melanopsin was part of a light-sensing system, in the latest research Yau and his colleagues sought to demonst
Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute