Light is important for eye development in the womb of the mother

Fetus shown in the eye

Researchers have found that light plays an important role in the normal eye development in fetus during pregnancy.

This research has been published online in the journal Nature.

This research has been done on the mouse model and is interesting as it tells that the eye not only depends on light to see but also requires light to develop normally even before birth.

“This fundamentally changes our understanding of how the retina develops,” study co-author Richard Lang, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said in a statement. “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.”

Researchers have found that a good number of photons, packets of light, have to enter the mother’s body during pregnancy. They found that the photons of light stimulate a protein called melanopsin specifically in the fetus – not in the mother – to help start normal development of blood vessels and retinal neurons in the eye. Melanopsin protein is found to be related to the body clock and other non-visual responses to the light. It is found in both mice and humans during pregnancy.

Researchers wrote, “We also show that the light response for this pathway occurs in late gestation at about embryonic day 16 and requires the photopigment in the fetus and not the mother. Measurements show that visceral cavity photon flux is probably sufficient to activate melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells in the mouse fetus.”

Researchers noted that one purpose of light-response pathway is to have a check on a number of blood vessels critical to retinal neurons requiring large amounts of oxygen to form and to function properly, thereby preventing damage to the eye and blindness.

“These data thus show that light—the stimulus for function of the mature eye—is also critical in preparing the eye for vision by regulating retinal neuron number and initiating a series of events that ultimately pattern the ocular blood vessels.” Researchers wrote.


Rao, S., Chun, C., Fan, J., Kofron, J., Yang, M., Hegde, R., Ferrara, N., Copenhagen, D., & Lang, R. (2013). A direct and melanopsin-dependent fetal light response regulates mouse eye development Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature11823

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