The adaptation of behavior and physiology to changes in the ambient light level is of crucial importance to life. These adaptations include the light modulation of neuroendocrine function and temporal alignment of physiology and behavior to the day:night cycle by the circadian clock. These non-image-forming (NIF) responses can function independent of rod and cone photoreceptors but depend on ocular light reception, suggesting the participation of novel photoreceptors in the eye. The discovery of melanopsin in intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) and genetic proof for its important role in major NIF responses have offered an exciting entry point to comprehend how mammals adapt to the light environment. Here, we review the recent advances in our understanding of the emerging roles of melanopsin and ipRGCs. These findings now offer new avenues to understand the role of ambient light in sleep, alertness, dependent physiologies and potential pharmacological intervention as well as lifestyle modifications to improve the quality of life.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.