Light, including artificial light, has a range of effects on human physiology and behavior and can therefore alter human physiology when inappropriately timed. One example of potential light-induced disruption is the effect of light on circadian organization, including the production of several hormone rhythms. Changes in light-dark exposure (e.g., by nonday occupation or transmeridian travel) shift the timing of the circadian system such that internal rhythms can become desynchronized from both the external environment and internally with each other, impairing our ability to sleep and wake at the appropriate times and compromising physiologic and metabolic processes. Light can also have direct acute effects on neuroendocrine systems, for example, in suppressing melatonin synthesis or elevating cortisol production that may have untoward long-term consequences. For these reasons, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences convened a workshop of a diverse group of scientists to consider how best to conduct research on possible connections between lighting and health. According to the participants in the workshop, there are three broad areas of research effort that need to be addressed. First are the basic biophysical and molecular genetic mechanisms for phototransduction for circadian, neuroendocrine, and neurobehavioral regulation. Second are the possible physiologic consequences of disrupting these circadian regulatory processes such as on hormone production, particularly melatonin, and normal and neoplastic tissue growth dynamics. Third are effects of light-induced physiologic disruption on disease occurrence and prognosis, and how prevention and treatment could be improved by application of this knowledge.
Keywords: breast cancer; circadian rhythms; clock genes; lighting; melatonin; phototransduction; pineal gland.