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In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript. A Nature Research Journal. Continuous visual perception and the dark adaptation of vertebrate photoreceptors after bright light exposure require recycling of their visual chromophore through a series of reactions in the retinal pigmented epithelium RPE visual cycle.

Light-driven chromophore consumption by photoreceptors is greater in daytime vs.

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However, as rod photoreceptors are saturated in bright light, the continuous turnover of their chromophore by the visual cycle throughout the day would not contribute to vision. Whether the recycling of chromophore that drives rod dark adaptation is regulated by the circadian clock and light exposure is unknown.

Here, we demonstrate that mouse rod dark adaptation is slower during the day or after light pre-exposure. This surprising daytime suppression of the RPE visual cycle was accompanied by light-driven reduction in expression of Rpe65 , a key enzyme of the RPE visual cycle.


Notably, only rods in melatonin-proficient mice were affected by this daily visual cycle modulation. Our results demonstrate that the circadian clock and light exposure regulate the recycling of chromophore in the RPE visual cycle. This daily melatonin-driven modulation of rod dark adaptation could potentially protect the retina from light-induced damage during the day. The retina provides vertebrate animals with information about the world around them and the overall light intensity.

Detailed visual information is generated by rod and cone photoreceptors, which are responsible for dim- and bright-light vision, respectively. The function of the retina is modulated by daily changes in ambient light conditions and by an intrinsic circadian clock 1. These mechanisms regulate many retinal functions, including melatonin synthesis 2 , the electrical coupling between photoreceptors 3 , 4 , and synaptic transmission 5 , to fine-tune visual processing in the retina 6.

The susceptibility to light-induced retinal damage is also higher in subjective circadian night than in subjective day 7. Although the mechanisms by which the circadian clock regulates this process is not understood, it is likely to be related to the light-sensing visual pigments in photoreceptors.

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Light detection is initiated in the retina when a photon is absorbed by the visual pigment in photoreceptors. This causes the conversion of the visual chromophore cis retinal to its all- trans form, activating the visual pigment and triggering the phototransduction cascade that ultimately results in the electric response of the cell 8. Notably, even though rods are saturated during the day, their visual pigment still continuously cycles through bleaching and regeneration.

As a result, in rod-dominant species like mouse and human, rods consume the bulk of the chromophore recycled by the RPE visual cycle 11 , while chromophore recycled by the retina visual cycle allows cones to rapidly regenerate their visual pigment 12 , The accumulation of retinoid byproducts with age or as a result of a dysfunctional visual cycle can cause retinal degeneration and blindness Chromophore consumption varies greatly during the day-night cycle.

031 How Rods and Cones respond to Light

During the day, the visual pigments in rods and cones are photobleached at a high rate, whereas a minimal amount of chromophore is used and recycled at night. Does light modulate the efficiency of chromophore recycling? One of the key processes modulated by both the circadian clock and light exposure is melatonin synthesis, which is suppressed during the circadian daytime and by light. The goal of our study was to determine if pigment regeneration is regulated by the circadian clock or by light.

Each of these two retinal signals strongly regulates the expression of melatonin at night, which in turn affects many processes in the retina 15 , We observed robust dark-adapted scotopic responses with a normal waveform Fig. Here and in all subsequent figures, DA refers to the initial dark-adapted value of the a-wave maximal response or sensitivity. As mouse rod pigment regeneration and dark adaptation are typically complete within one hour 11 , 17 , such conditions allowed for full dark-adaptation prior to the experiment for both time points.

This notion was also supported by the comparable scotopic a-wave sensitivities at CT 18 and CT 6. Consecutive measurements of these parameters in darkness over the next two hours revealed the gradual dark adaptation of the rods as their pigment regenerated. Thus, mouse rod dark adaptation is modulated by the circadian clock.

However, the ERG recordings from these mice revealed a prominent b-wave amplitude loss and extended a- and b-wave implicit times Fig. The abnormal ERG responses from these mice also call for caution when using this strain for molecular analysis of the retinal circadian clock.

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  • In addition to the circadian clock, exposure to light may also directly affect animal physiology, particularly in the light-sensitive retina 5. Thus, we next sought to determine if rod dark adaptation is regulated by light history. Comparison of rod dark adaptation in subjective and objective day demonstrated that both a-wave maximal response Fig.

    Thus, our results revealed that rod dark adaptation in melatonin-proficient mice is suppressed by pre-exposure to light. Notably, the effect of light on the rod visual cycle was substantially more prominent than that induced by the circadian clock Fig. IRBP is a binding protein in the interphotoreceptor matrix. Comparison of gene expression levels in OD vs. Transcript levels of Rpe65 were normalized to Gapdh. Error bars represent standard error of the mean SEM across five biological replicates per condition. Given the electrophysiological findings that light exposure suppresses rod dark adaptation, we hypothesized that there was an underlying molecular downregulation of the visual cycle in objective day.

    Accordingly, we conducted RNA-seq and differential expression analysis of the eyes of subjective day and objective day groups. Among the genes with altered expression, we identified two known visual cycle genes, Rpe65 and Rdh12 Fig. The downregulation of Rpe65 would delay the recycling of chromophore in the RPE and the overall visual cycle 22 , whereas Rdh12 upregulation would accelerate the reduction of toxic all- trans retinal and its clearance from the rods Overall, these molecular studies suggest that the light-driven slowing of rod dark adaptation may be mediated by Rpe65 —dependent suppression of the RPE visual cycle.

    First, we measured the dark-adapted scotopic intensity-response curves at subjective day, subjective night, and objective day Fig. The results revealed that the ERG a-wave amplitudes were slightly increased in subjective night compared to subjective day Fig. A further increase in a-wave amplitudes was observed in objective day Fig.

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    The circadian clock and light regulate many processes in the retina However, despite the large difference in the rates of visual pigment photoactivation at night and during the day, it was not previously known whether the recycling of chromophore and the regeneration of visual pigment are also subject to such regulation.

    Our results clearly demonstrate that both the circadian clock and light exposure slow down the dark adaptation of rods in melatonin-proficient mice during the day. Thus, rod pigment regeneration in these mice is modulated by the combined effects of the circadian clock and light, such that rod dark adaptation is substantially slowed in the daytime, when rods are largely saturated. As this is the only mechanism for regeneration of the rod visual pigment and the rate-limiting step for rod dark adaptation 8 , 11 , slowing the RPE visual cycle would cause a corresponding delay in the regeneration of rod pigment and in the dark adaptation of rods.

    Melatonin is produced not only by the pineal gland but also locally in the retina by photoreceptor cells at night 26 , where it regulates many aspects of mammalian retinal physiology see ref. The rhythmicity of melatonin biosynthesis also drives diurnal retinal dopamine synthesis, which peaks during the day 15 , further amplifying the robustness of the retina-intrinsic circadian clock. In contrast, C3H mice still retain their ability to synthesize melatonin.

    Thus, the simplest explanation for our results is that the efficiency of the RPE visual cycle is modulated by the daily oscillation of melatonin. The high sensitivity of rods enables them to detect low light levels and mediate dim light vision. However, the high amplification that produces this exquisite rod sensitivity also results in the saturation of the rods at moderately bright light conditions Despite this fact, the rod visual pigment continues to undergo bleaching and regeneration throughout the day. As this process involves multiple enzymatic reactions both in the rods and in the RPE cells, it imposes a significant metabolic load on the visual system.

    Therefore, the downregulation of the RPE visual cycle during the day by both the circadian clock and light history would conserve energy without significantly compromising rod-mediated vision. The corresponding acceleration of all- trans retinal reduction in the rods, as suggested by the observed upregulation of Rdh12 , would minimize the toxic effects of this compound 32 and prevent the formation and accumulation of related toxic byproducts At the same time, as the cones rely predominantly on the alternative retina visual cycle for the bulk of their dark adaptation 13 , 34 and for chromophore supply during cone opsin synthesis 35 , the suppression of the RPE visual cycle would not be expected to compromise cone-mediated daytime vision.

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    Another possible benefit of downregulating the RPE visual cycle during the day is the protection of the retina from light damage. It is known that mice with lower Rpe65 expression have a slower rod dark adaptation and higher resistance to light-induced rod degeneration 36 , presumably because the slower turnover of visual pigment reduces the accumulation of toxic retinoid byproducts. Similarly, the down-regulation of the RPE visual cycle during the day could be a mechanism to protect photoreceptors from light damage.

    Consistent with this hypothesis, in rats, retinas are more susceptible to light-induced damage at night 37 , Our finding that the RPE visual cycle is faster at night provides a mechanistic explanation for this observation. Therefore, a rhythmic melatonin-driven diurnal suppression of the RPE visual cycle may protect the retina from degeneration by lowering the susceptibility of photoreceptors to light damage during the day.

    Indeed, lack of melatonin-dependent RPE visual cycle regulation could be involved in the enhanced age-dependent retinal degeneration in mice lacking the melatonin receptors MT1 and MT2 6 , Conversely, enhancing the diurnal suppression of the RPE visual cycle by oral intake of melatonin could be one of the factors that reduce the risk of human age-related macular degeneration AMD The maintenance and treatment of the mice was in compliance with the protocols approved by the Washington University Animal Studies Committee.

    All animals used in this study were free of the rd8 mutation Age-matched animals were grouped into three categories: subjective night, subjective day, and objective day. The reference electrode was inserted subcutaneously beneath the scalp and 2. A contact lens electrode was positioned on the cornea of each eye to detect electrical signals from retina. Sufficient time was allowed between individual test flashes to allow full recovery of the retina and avoid gradual response run-down due to light adaptation.

    The post-bleach maximal amplitude r max and sensitivity S f were normalized to their dark adapted pre-bleach level, r DA max and S f DA , respectively. RNA-seq was performed in two biological replicates per condition objective day vs.