Circadian modulation of melanopsin-driven light response in rat ganglion-cell photoreceptors

J Biol Rhythms. 2009 Oct;24(5):391-402. doi: 10.1177/0748730409343767.


Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) project to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and are essential for normal photic entrainment of global circadian rhythms in physiology and behavior. The effect of light on the central clock is dependent on circadian phase, and the retina itself contains intrinsic circadian oscillators that can alter its sensitivity to light. This raises the possibility that the ipRGCs, and hence the photoentraining signals in the retinohypothalamic tract, are subject to circadian modulation. Although the ipRGC photopigment melanopsin reportedly exhibits circadian variations in expression, there has been no direct test of the hypothesis that ipRGC sensitivity is under circadian control. Here, the authors provide such a test by measuring the sensitivity of intrinsic photoresponses of rat ipRGCs at 4 circadian times (CTs) using multielectrode array recording. There was little if any circadian modulation in the threshold of intrinsic ipRGC photoresponses. However, very bright light evoked significantly more spiking early in the subjective night (CT12-13) than at other circadian phases. Thus, the gain of the melanopsin-driven response is slightly increased in the early night, at roughly the circadian phase when melanopsin synthesis is thought to be elevated. However, this gain change is probably too modest to contribute much to shape the phase response curve (PRC) for behavioral photoentrainment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Photoperiod
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism*
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism*


  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin