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J Biol Rhythms. 2012 Aug;27(4):319-27. doi: 10.1177/0748730412448324.

Dim nighttime light impairs cognition and provokes depressive-like responses in a diurnal rodent.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Circadian disruption is a common by-product of modern life. Although jet lag and shift work are well-documented challenges to circadian organization, many more subtle environmental changes cause circadian disruption. For example, frequent fluctuations in the timing of the sleep/wake schedule, as well as exposure to nighttime lighting, likely affect the circadian system. Most studies of these effects have focused on nocturnal rodents, which are very different from diurnal species with respect to their patterns of light exposure and the effects that light can have on their activity. Thus, the authors investigated the effect of nighttime light on behavior and the brain of a diurnal rodent, the Nile grass rat. Following 3 weeks of exposure to standard light/dark (LD; 14:10 light [~150 lux] /dark [0 lux]) or dim light at night (dLAN; 14:10 light [~150 lux] /dim [5 lux]), rats underwent behavioral testing, and hippocampal neurons within CA1, CA3, and the dentate gyrus (DG) were examined. Three behavioral effects of dLAN were observed: (1) decreased preference for a sucrose solution, (2) increased latency to float in a forced swim test, and (3) impaired learning and memory in the Barnes maze. Light at night also reduced dendritic length in DG and basilar CA1 dendrites. Dendritic length in the DG positively correlated with sucrose consumption in the sucrose anhedonia task. Nighttime light exposure did not disrupt the pattern of circadian locomotor activity, and all grass rats maintained a diurnal activity pattern. Together, these data suggest that exposure to dLAN can alter affective responses and impair cognition in a diurnal animal.

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