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Study with totally blind people shows how light helps activate the brain
Date:10/27/2013

This news release is available in French.

Light enhances brain activity during a cognitive task even in some people who are totally blind, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. The findings contribute to scientists' understanding of everyone's brains, as they also revealed how quickly light impacts on cognition. "We were stunned to discover that the brain still respond significantly to light in these rare three completely blind patients despite having absolutely no conscious vision at all," said senior co-author Steven Lockley. "Light doesn't just allow us to see, it tells the brain whether it's night or day which in -- turn ensures that our physiology, metabolism and behavior are synchronized with environmental time". "For diurnal species like ours, light stimulates day-like brain activity, improving alertness and mood, and enhancing performance on many cognitive tasks," explained senior co-author Julie Carrier. The results indicate that their brains can still "see", or detect, light via a novel photoreceptor in the ganglion cell layer of the retina, different from the rods and cones we use to see.

Scientists believe, however, that these specialized photoreceptors in the retina also contribute to visual function in the brain even when cells in the retina responsible for normal image formation have lost their ability to receive or process light. A previous study in a single blind patient suggested that this was possible but the research team wanted to confirm this result in different patients. To test this hypothesis, the three participants were asked to say whether a blue light was on or off, even though they could not see the light. "We found that the participants did indeed have a non-con
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Contact: William Raillant-Clark
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
514-343-7593
University of Montreal
Source:Eurekalert

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