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A Circadian Rhythm-Gated Subcortical Pathway for Nighttime-Light-Induced Depressive-Like Behaviors in Mice


Besides generating vision, light modulates various physiological functions, including mood. While light therapy applied in the daytime is known to have anti-depressive properties, excessive light exposure at night has been reportedly associated with depressive symptoms. The neural mechanisms underlying this day-night difference in the effects of light are unknown. Using a light-at-night (LAN) paradigm in mice, we showed that LAN induced depressive-like behaviors without disturbing the circadian rhythm. This effect was mediated by a neural pathway from retinal melanopsin-expressing ganglion cells to the dorsal perihabenular nucleus (dpHb) to the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Importantly, the dpHb was gated by the circadian rhythm, being more excitable at night than during the day. This indicates that the ipRGC→dpHb→NAc pathway preferentially conducts light signals at night, thereby mediating LAN-induced depressive-like behaviors. These findings may be relevant when considering the mental health effects of the prevalent nighttime illumination in the industrial world.


An, K., Zhao, H., Miao, Y., Xu, Q., Li, Y. F., Ma, Y. Q., ... & Xue, T. (2020). A circadian rhythm-gated subcortical pathway for nighttime-light-induced depressive-like behaviors in mice. Nature Neuroscience, 23(7), 869-880.

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