A research team led by Johns Hopkins scientists has discovered that a special, tiny group of cells at the back of the eye help tell the brain how much light there is, causing the pupil to get bigger or smaller. The findings, which appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of Science, largely complete the picture of how light levels are detected in the eye.
"This tiny group of cells, together with rods and cones, are the bulk of the eyes mechanisms for detecting levels of light and passing that information to the brain," says King-Wai Yau, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
The team previously had shown that this set of retinal cells, all of which contain a protein called melanopsin, are naturally sensitive to light. They also showed that the cells connect to the brain in such a way that they are poised to control how the pupil reacts to light and how animals adapt to day and night.
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