Brain pathway that helps to explain light's effect on mood
Studies with experimental animals have revealed a mood-regulating neural pathway linking intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), involved in the pathophysiology of mood disorders. Since humans also have light-intensity–encoding ipRGCs, we asked whether a similar pathway exists in humans. Here, functional MRI was used to identify PFC regions and other areas exhibiting light-intensity–dependent signals. Total 26 human brain regions having activation that either monotonically decreases or monotonically increases with light intensity. Luxotonic-related activation occurred across the cerebral cortex, in diverse subcortical structures, and in the cerebellum, encompassing regions with functions related to visual image formation, motor control, cognition, and emotion. Light suppressed PFC activation, which monotonically decreased with increasing light intensity. The sustained time course of light-evoked PFC responses and their susceptibility to prior light exposure resembled those of ipRGCs. These findings offer a functional link between light exposure and PFC-mediated cognitive and affective phenomena.