Eyes need light to develop normally
Monday, January 21 2013 | 00 h 00 min | News
A paper published in the Nature concludes that the eye of a fetus needs light exposure to develop normally.
This unexpected discovery “fundamentally changes our understanding of how the retina develops,” says study co-author Richard Lang, a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “We have identified a light-response pathway that controls the number of retinal neurons. This has downstream effects on developing vasculature in the eye and is important because several major eye diseases are vascular diseases.” This discovery could lead to a better understanding of retinopathy in pre-term infants.
Until now, scientists have presumed that light plays a role in eye development only after birth.
The researchers were able to determine that it is important for a sufficient number of photons to enter the mother’s body by late gestation. They were also surprised to learn that these photons activate a protein called melanopsin directly in the fetus, not the mother, to help initiate normal development of blood vessels and retinal neurons in the eye.