Preliminary evidence for a change in spectral sensitivity of the circadian system at night

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Background: It is well established that the absolute sensitivity of the suprachiasmatic nucleus to photic stimulation received through the retino-hypothalamic tract changes throughout the 24-hour day. It is also believed that a combination of classical photoreceptors (rods and cones) and melanopsin-containing retinal ganglion cells participate in circadian phototransduction, with a spectral sensitivity peaking between 440 and 500 nm. It is still unknown, however, whether the spectral sensitivity of the circadian system also changes throughout the solar day. Reported here is a new study that was designed to determine whether the spectral sensitivity of the circadian retinal phototransduction mechanism, measured through melatonin suppression and iris constriction, varies at night. Methods: Human adult males were exposed to a high-pressure mercury lamp [450 lux (170 μW/cm2) at the cornea] and an array of blue light emitting diodes [18 lux (29 μW/cm2) at the cornea] during two nighttime experimental sessions. Both melatonin suppression and iris constriction were measured during and after a one-hour light exposure just after midnight and just before dawn. Results: An increase in the percentage of melatonin suppression and an increase in pupil constriction for the mercury source relative to the blue light source at night were found, suggesting a temporal change in the contribution of photoreceptor mechanisms leading to melatonin suppression and, possibly, iris constriction by light in humans. Conclusions: The preliminary data presented here suggest a change in the spectral sensitivity of circadian phototransduction mechanisms at two different times of the night. These findings are hypothesized to be the result of a change in the sensitivity of the melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells to light during the night.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalJournal of Circadian Rhythms
StatePublished - 11 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


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