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The role of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in nonimage-forming responses to light

Authors Warthen, Provencio I

Received 2 July 2012

Accepted for publication 16 August 2012

Published 6 September 2012 Volume 2012:4 Pages 43—48

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/EB.S27839

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4


Daniel M Warthen,1,2 Ignacio Provencio1

1Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA; 2Department of Pharmacology, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA, USA

Abstract: Light exerts many effects on behavior and physiology. These effects can be characterized as either image-forming or nonimage-forming (NIF) visual processes. Image-forming vision refers to the process of detecting objects and organisms in the environment and distinguishing their physical characteristics, such as size, shape, and direction of motion. NIF vision, in contrast, refers to effects of light that are independent of fine spatiotemporal vision. NIF effects are many and varied, ranging from modulation of basal physiology, such as heart rate and body temperature, to changes in higher functions, such as mood and cognitive performance. In mammals, many NIF effects of light are dependent upon the inner retinal photopigment melanopsin and the cells in which melanopsin is expressed, the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). The ipRGCs project broadly throughout the brain. Many of these projections terminate in areas known to mediate NIF effects, while others terminate in regions whose link to photoreception remains to be established. Additionally, the presence of ipRGC projections to areas of the brain with no known link to photoreception suggests the existence of additional ipRGC-mediated NIF effects. This review summarizes the known NIF effects of light and the role of melanopsin and ipRGCs in driving these effects, with an eye toward stimulating further investigation of the many and varied effects of light on physiology and behavior.

Keywords: amygdala, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, melanopsin, opsin, optic nerve, retina

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