The role of retinal photoreceptors in the regulation of circadian rhythms

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2009 Dec;10(4):271-8. doi: 10.1007/s11154-009-9120-x.


The circadian clock is an evolutionarily, highly conserved feature of most organisms. This internal timing mechanism coordinates biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes to maintain synchrony with the environmental cycles of light, temperature and nutrients. Several studies have shown that light is the most potent cue used by most organisms (humans included) to synchronize daily activities. In mammals, light perception occurs only in the retina; three different types of photoreceptors are present within this tissue: cones, rods and the newly discovered intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). Researchers believe that the classical photoreceptors (e.g., the rods and the cones) are responsible for the image-forming vision, whereas the ipRGCs play a key role in the non-image forming vision. This non-image-forming photoreceptive system communicates not only with the master circadian pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus, but also with many other brain areas that are known to be involved in the regulation of several functions; thus, this non-image forming system may also affect several aspects of mammalian health independently from the circadian system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / metabolism
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology*
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism
  • Rod Opsins / physiology


  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin