Department of Neurology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Light profoundly impacts human consciousness through the stimulation of the visual system and powerfully regulates the human circadian system, which, in turn, has a broad regulatory impact on virtually all tissues in the body. For more than 25 years, the techniques of action spectroscopy have yielded insights into the wavelength sensitivity of circadian input in humans and other mammalian species. The seminal discovery of melanopsin, the photopigment in intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, has provided a significant turning point for understanding human circadian phototransduction. Action spectra in humans show that the peak wavelength sensitivity for this newly discovered sensory system is within the blue portion of the spectrum. This is fundamentally different from the three-cone photopic visual system, as well as the individual rod and cone photoreceptor peaks. Studies on rodents, nonhuman primates, and humans indicate that despite having a different wavelength fingerprint, these classic visual photoreceptors still provide an element of input to the circadian system. These findings open the door to innovations in light therapy for circadian and affective disorders, as well as possible architectural light applications.