Photochemical damage of the retina

Surv Ophthalmol. 2006 Sep-Oct;51(5):461-81. doi: 10.1016/j.survophthal.2006.06.009.


Visual perception occurs when radiation with a wavelength between 400 and 760 nm reaches the retina. The retina has evolved to capture photons efficiently and initiate visual transduction. The retina, however, is vulnerable to damage by light, a vulnerability that has long been recognized. Photochemical damage has been widely studied, because it can cause retinal damage within the intensity range of natural light. Photochemical lesions are primarily located in the outer layers at the central region of the retina. Two classes of photochemical damage have been recognized: Class I damage, which is characterized by the rhodopsin action spectrum, is believed to be mediated by visual pigments, with the primary lesions located in the photoreceptors; whereas Class II damage is generally confined to the retinal pigment epithelium. The action spectrum peaks in the short wavelength region, providing the basis for the concept of blue light hazard. Several factors can modify the susceptibility of the retina to photochemical damage. Photochemical mechanisms, in particular mechanisms that arise from illumination with blue light, are responsible for solar retinitis and for iatrogenic retinal insult from ophthalmological instruments. Further, blue light may play a role in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration. Laboratory studies have suggested that photochemical damage includes oxidative events. Retinal cells die by apoptosis in response to photic injury, and the process of cell death is operated by diverse damaging mechanisms. Modern molecular biology techniques help to study in-depth the basic mechanism of photochemical damage of the retina and to develop strategies of neuroprotection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Oxidants, Photochemical / radiation effects
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects
  • Photobleaching / radiation effects
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / radiation effects*
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Retina / radiation effects*
  • Retinal Degeneration / etiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / radiation effects


  • Oxidants, Photochemical