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JCI Insight. 2017 Apr 6;2(7):e89494. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.89494.

Circadian phase resetting by a single short-duration light exposure.

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Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Departments of Medicine and Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Surrey Sleep Research Centre, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.
School of Engineering and Applied Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


BACKGROUND. In humans, a single light exposure of 12 minutes and multiple-millisecond light exposures can shift the phase of the circadian pacemaker. We investigated the response of the human circadian pacemaker to a single 15-second or 2-minute light pulse administered during the biological night. METHODS. Twenty-six healthy individuals participated in a 9-day inpatient protocol that included assessment of dim light melatonin onset time (DLMO time) before and after exposure to a single 15-second (n = 8) or 2-minute (n = 12) pulse of bright light (9,500 lux; 4,100 K fluorescent) or control background dim light (<3 lux; n = 6). Phase shifts were calculated as the difference in clock time between the two phase estimates. RESULTS. Both 15-second and 2-minute exposures induced phase delay shifts [median (± SD)] of -34.8 ± 47.2 minutes and -45.4 ± 28.4 minutes, respectively, that were significantly (P = 0.04) greater than the control condition (advance shift: +22.3 ± 51.3 minutes) but were not significantly different from each other. Comparisons with historic data collected under the same conditions confirmed a nonlinear relationship between exposure duration and the magnitude of phase shift. CONCLUSIONS. Our results underscore the exquisite sensitivity of the human pacemaker to even short-duration single exposures to light. These findings may have real-world implications for circadian disruption induced by exposure to brief light stimuli at night. TRIAL REGISTRATION. The study was registered as a clinical trial on, NCT #01330992. FUNDING. Funding for this study was provided by NSBRI HFP02802 and NIH P01-AG09975, R01-HL114088 (EBK), RC2-HL101340-0 (EBK, SWL, SAR, REK), K02-HD045459 (EBK), K24-HL105664 (EBK), T32-HL07901 (MSH, SAR), HL094654 (CAC), and AG044416 (JFD). The project described was supported by NIH grant 1UL1 TR001102-01, 8UL1TR000170-05, UL1 RR 025758, Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Science.

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