Human retinal light sensitivity and melatonin rhythms following four days in near darkness.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Chronobiol Int, Volume 26, Issue 1, p.93-107 (2009)


Adult, Circadian Rhythm, Color, Darkness, Electroretinography, Female, Humans, Melatonin, Middle Aged, Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells, Saliva, Time Factors, Young Adult


<p>The rods in the retina are responsible for night vision, whereas the cone system enables day vision. We studied whether rod function in humans exhibits an endogenous circadian rhythm and if changes occur in conditions of prolonged darkness. Seven healthy subjects (mean age+/-SD: 25.6+/-12.3 yr) completed a 4.5-day protocol during which they were kept in complete darkness (days 1 and 4) and near darkness (<0.1 lux red light, days 2 and 3). Electroretinography (ERG) and saliva collections were done at intervals of at least 3 h for 27 h on days 1 and 4. Full-field ERGs were recorded over 10 low-intensity green light flashes known to test predominantly rod function. As a circadian marker, salivary melatonin concentration was measured by radioimmunoassay. The ERG data showed that rod responsiveness to light progressively diminished in darkness (significantly lower a- and b-wave amplitudes, longer b-wave implicit time). The decrease in amplitude (b-wave) from day 1 to day 4 averaged 22+/-14%. After correction for the darkness-related linear trend, the circadian variations in ERG indices were weak and usually non-significant, with slightly higher responsiveness to light during the day than night. Rod sensitivity (by K index) tended to decrease. Strikingly, the overall amount of melatonin secretion (area under 24 h curve) also decreased from day 1 to day 4 by 33.1+/-18.9% (p=.017). The drift of the melatonin rhythm phase was within the normal range, less than 56 min over three days. There was no significant correlation between the changes in ERG responses and melatonin. In conclusion, scotopic retinal response to (low-intensity) light and the amount of melatonin secreted are diminished when humans are kept in continuous darkness. Both processes may have a common underlying mechanism implicating a variety of neurochemicals known to be involved in the regulation of both photoreceptor and pineal gland function.</p>

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