Wavelength-dependent modulation of brain responses to a working memory task by daytime light exposure

Cereb Cortex. 2007 Dec;17(12):2788-95. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhm007. Epub 2007 Apr 2.


In addition to classical visual effects, light elicits nonvisual brain responses, which profoundly influence physiology and behavior. These effects are mediated in part by melanopsin-expressing light-sensitive ganglion cells that, in contrast to the classical photopic system that is maximally sensitive to green light (550 nm), is very sensitive to blue light (470-480 nm). At present, there is no evidence that blue light exposure is effective in modulating nonvisual brain activity related to complex cognitive tasks. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that, while participants perform an auditory working memory task, a short (18 min) daytime exposure to blue (470 nm) or green (550 nm) monochromatic light (3 x 10(13) photons/cm2/s) differentially modulates regional brain responses. Blue light typically enhanced brain responses or at least prevented the decline otherwise observed following green light exposure in frontal and parietal cortices implicated in working memory, and in the thalamus involved in the modulation of cognition by arousal. Our results imply that monochromatic light can affect cognitive functions almost instantaneously and suggest that these effects are mediated by a melanopsin-based photoreceptor system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / radiation effects
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attention / radiation effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / radiation effects
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition / radiation effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / radiation effects
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Sunlight*