Can We See with Melanopsin?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A small fraction of mammalian retinal ganglion cells are directly photoreceptive thanks to their expression of the photopigment melanopsin. These intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) have well-established roles in a variety of reflex responses to changes in ambient light intensity, including circadian photoentrainment. In this article, we review the growing evidence, obtained primarily from laboratory mice and humans, that the ability to sense light via melanopsin is also an important component of perceptual and form vision. Melanopsin photoreception has low temporal resolution, making it fundamentally biased toward detecting changes in ambient light and coarse patterns rather than fine details. Nevertheless, melanopsin can indirectly impact high-acuity vision by driving aspects of light adaptation ranging from pupil constriction to changes in visual circuit performance. Melanopsin also contributes directly to perceptions of brightness, and recent data suggest that this influences the appearance not only of overall scene brightness, but also of low-frequency patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-468
Number of pages16
JournalAnnual review of vision science
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2020


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