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Light therapy might help premature babies avoid vision problems

17/04/2019By Myles Hume
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Researchers have discovered a light-dependent molecular pathway in the eye that could possibly allow them to make use of light therapy to avoid vision problems common among premature babies.

Researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center identified a molecular pathway that is responsible for regulating the development of blood vessels in the eye.

Called the opsin 5-dopamine pathway, the molecular process ensures that blood-vessel development in the eye is properly balanced to prepare it for visual function, which can be disrupted in premature babies.

"Our study indicates opsin 5-dopamine pathway is probably part of a light-dependent disease process for conditions like myopia, which is now a worldwide epidemic," study senior author Dr Richard A. Lang, director of the Visual Systems Group at Cincinnati Children's, said.



“It raises the interesting possibility that we might be able to use light exposure to treat conditions like retinopathy of prematurity after a premature infant is born or in people with myopia.”
Richard A. Lang, Cincinnati Children's Hospital

"It raises the interesting possibility that we might be able to use light exposure to treat conditions like retinopathy of prematurity after a premature infant is born or in people with myopia."

The cohort research is a collaboration led by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, along with research institutions in the US and the Czech Republic.

The team is using a variety of methods in studying eye development and how it is influenced by opsin 5-dopamine pathway in postnatal mice.

The researchers observed that an embryonic network of hyaloid blood vessels regresses in a process that requires precise timing in order for the mice to develop high-acuity vision during postnatal eye development in mice.

The developing postnatal eye depends on light responses in the retina controlled by the protein opsin 5 expressed in special photoreceptor cells in the retina.

Opsin 5 and the neurotransmitter dopamine – which promotes blood vessel regression – worked together to regulate the eye’s balanced vascular development.

In genetically modified mice that do not express the opsin 5 in the retina, they observed that the loss of the protein increased the levels of dopamine in the vitreous- the clear, gel-like substance in the eye.

This caused hyaloid blood vessels in the still-developing eyes to regress very quickly, hindering normal eye development.

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The researchers used 380 nanometer violet colored light to activate signaling via opsin 5, which reduced dopamine levels in the eye and produced other molecular changes that helped restore proper timing cues needed for appropriately balanced vascular development.

While the results of the study require additional research to warrant human clinical trials, the findings provided data of how the opsin 5-dopamine pathway was proof of healthy eye development in mice models and could soon be a potential approach for premature human babies.

The study was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

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