Blue light exposure in vitro causes toxicity to trigeminal neurons and glia through increased superoxide and hydrogen peroxide generation

Free Radic Biol Med. 2019 Feb 1;131:27-39. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.11.029. Epub 2018 Nov 27.


Today the noxiousness of blue light from natural and particularly artificial (fluorescent tubes, LED panels, visual displays) sources is actively discussed in the context of various ocular diseases. Many of them have an important neurologic component and are associated with ocular pain. This neuropathic signal is provided by nociceptive neurons from trigeminal ganglia. However, the phototoxicity of blue light on trigeminal neurons has not been explored so far. The aim of the present in vitro study was to investigate the cytotoxic impact of various wavebands of visible light (410-630 nm) on primary cell culture of mouse trigeminal neural and glial cells. Three-hour exposure to narrow wavebands of blue light centered at 410, 440 and 480 nm of average 1.1 mW/cm2 irradiance provoked cell death, altered cell morphology and induced oxidative stress and inflammation. These effects were not observed for other tested visible wavebands. We observed that neurons and glial cells processed the light signal in different manner, in terms of resulting superoxide and hydrogen peroxide generation, inflammatory biomarkers expression and phototoxic mitochondrial damage. We analyzed the pathways of photic signal reception, and we proposed that, in trigeminal cells, in addition to widely known mitochondria-mediated light absorption, light could be received by means of non-visual opsins, melanopsin (opn4) and neuropsin (opn5). We also investigated the mechanisms underlying the observed phototoxicity, further suggesting an important role of the endoplasmic reticulum in neuronal transmission of blue-light-toxic message. Taken together, our results give some insight into circuit of tangled pain and photosensitivity frequently observed in patients consulting for these ocular symptoms.

Keywords: Blue light; Glial cells; Neurophototoxicity; Non-visual opsins; Trigeminal neural cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death / radiation effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / radiation effects
  • Gene Expression / radiation effects
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / agonists*
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Light / adverse effects*
  • Light Signal Transduction
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / radiation effects
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / radiation effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / radiation effects*
  • Opsins / genetics
  • Opsins / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Rod Opsins / genetics
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism
  • Superoxides / agonists*
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / metabolism
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / radiation effects


  • Membrane Proteins
  • OPN5 protein, mouse
  • Opsins
  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin
  • Superoxides
  • Hydrogen Peroxide