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Melanopsin-Expressing Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells in Retinal Disease

Feigl, Beatrix*; Zele, Andrew J.

doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000000284
Pathogenesis: Reviews

Melanopsin-containing intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) are a class of photoreceptors with established roles in non–image-forming processes. Their contributions to image-forming vision may include the estimation of brightness. Animal models have been central for understanding the physiological mechanisms of ipRGC function and there is evidence of conservation of function across species. Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells can be divided into five ganglion cell subtypes that show morphological and functional diversity. Research in humans has established that ipRGCs signal environmental irradiance to entrain the central body clock to the solar day for regulating circadian processes and sleep. In addition, ipRGCs mediate the pupil light reflex (PLR), making the PLR a readily accessible behavioral marker of ipRGC activity. Less is known about ipRGC function in retinal and optic nerve disease, with emerging research providing insight into their function in diabetes, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, and hereditary optic neuropathy. We briefly review the anatomical distributions, projections, and basic physiological mechanisms of ipRGCs and their proposed and known functions in animals and humans with and without eye disease. We introduce a paradigm for differentiating inner and outer retinal inputs to the pupillary control pathway in retinal disease and apply this paradigm to patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In these cases of patients with AMD, we provide the initial evidence that ipRGC function is altered and that the dysfunction is more pronounced in advanced disease. Our perspective is that with refined pupillometry paradigms, the PLR can be extended to AMD assessment as a tool for the measurement of inner and outer retinal dysfunction.

*MD, PhD


Medical Retina and Visual Science Laboratories, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (both authors).

Beatrix Feigl Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation Queensland University of Technology 60 Musk Ave Brisbane, QLD 4059 Australia e-mail:

© 2014 American Academy of Optometry