Jan. 16, 2013 —
Science Daily/Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
New research in Nature concludes the eye -- which depends on light to see -- also needs light to develop normally during pregnancy.
Scientists say the unexpected finding offers a new basic understanding of fetal eye development and ocular diseases caused by vascular disorders -- in particular one called retinopathy of prematurity that can blind premature infants. The research, led by scientists at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), appears online Jan. 16 ahead of print publication.
"This fundamentally changes our understanding of how the retina develops," says study co-author Richard Lang, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology 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."
But researchers in the current study found that activation of the newly described light-response pathway must happen during pregnancy to activate the carefully choreographed program that produces a healthy eye. Specifically, they say it is important for a sufficient number of photons to enter the mother's body by late gestation, or about 16 days into a mouse pregnancy.