Light plays a pivotal role in the regulation of affective behaviors. However, the precise circuits that mediate the impact of light on depressive-like behaviors are not well understood. Here, we show that light influences depressive-like behaviors through a disynaptic circuit linking the retina and the lateral habenula (LHb). Specifically, M4-type melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) innervate GABA neurons in the thalamic ventral lateral geniculate nucleus and intergeniculate leaflet (vLGN/IGL), which in turn inhibit CaMKIIα neurons in the LHb. Specific activation of vLGN/IGL-projecting RGCs, activation of LHb-projecting vLGN/IGL neurons, or inhibition of postsynaptic LHb neurons is sufficient to decrease the depressive-like behaviors evoked by long-term exposure to aversive stimuli or chronic social defeat stress. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the antidepressive effects of light therapy require activation of the retina-vLGN/IGL-LHb pathway. These results reveal a dedicated retina-vLGN/IGL-LHb circuit that regulates depressive-like behaviors and provide a potential mechanistic explanation for light treatment of depression.
Keywords: depression; lateral habenula; light therapy; retina.
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