We have examined the effects of light on circadian locomotor rhythms in retinally degenerate mice (C57BL/6J mice homozygous for the rd allele: rd/rd). The sensitivity of circadian photoreception in these mice was determined by varying the irradiance of a 15 min light pulse (515 nm) given at circadian time 16 and measuring the magnitude of the phase shift of the locomotor rhythm. Experiments were performed on animals 80 days of age. Despite the loss of visual photoreceptors in the rd/rd retina, animals showed circadian responses to light that were indistinguishable from mice with normal retinas (rd/+ and +/+). While no photoreceptor outersegments were identified in the retina of rd/rd animals (80-100 days of age), we did identify a small number of perikarya that were immunoreactive for cone opsins, and even fewer cells that contained rod opsin. Using HPLC, we demonstrated the presence and photoisomerization of the rhodopsin chromophore 11-cis retinaldehyde. The rd/rd retinas contained about 2% of 11-cis retinaldehyde found in +/+ retinas. We have yet to determine whether the opsin immunoreactive perikarya or some other unidentified cell type mediate circadian light detection in the rd/rd retina.