Abstract

The pupil modulates the amount of light that reaches the retina. Not only luminance but also the spectral distribution defines the pupil size. Previous research has identified steady-state pupil size and melatonin attenuation to be predominantly driven by melanopsin, which is expressed by a unique subgroup of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) that are sensitive to short-wavelength light (~480 nm). Here, we aimed to selectively target the melanopsin system during the evening, while measuring steady-state pupil size and melatonin concentrations under commonly experienced evening light levels (<90 lx). Therefore, we used a five-primary display prototype to generate light conditions that were matched in terms of L-, M-, and S-cone-opic irradiances, but with high and low melanopic irradiances (~3-fold difference). Seventy-two healthy, male participants completed a 2-week study protocol. The volunteers were assigned to one of the four groups that differed in luminance levels (27-285 cd/m2). Within the four groups, each volunteer was exposed to a low melanopic (LM) and a high melanopic (HM) condition. The two 17-h study protocols comprised 3.5 h of light exposure starting 4 h before habitual bedtime. Median pupil size was significantly smaller during HM than LM in all four light intensity groups. In addition, we observed a significant correlation between melanopic weighted corneal illuminance (melanopic equivalent daylight illuminance [mEDI]) and pupil size, such that higher mEDI values were associated with smaller pupil size. Using pupil size to estimate retinal irradiance showed a qualitatively similar goodness of fit as mEDI for predicting melatonin suppression. Based on our results here, it remains appropriate to use melanopic irradiance measured at eye level when comparing light-dependent effects on evening melatonin concentrations in healthy young people at rather low light levels.

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