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Exposure to light in the womb affects fetal eye development

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A study published in Nature details the findings of research conducted at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of California San Francisco, which revealed that normal fetal eye development in mice is related to light exposure during pregnancy. Researchers were able to identify a light-response pathway that controls the number of retinal neurons and has an effect on developing vasculature in the eye. This new discovery helps to shed light on ocular diseases cause by vascular disorders and especially retinopathy of prematurity. Prior to this research, scientists believed that if light played a role in the development of the eye that it would only happen after birth. What they found in their study was that activation of a light-response pathway must happen during pregnancy to activate the necessary sequence to produce a healthy eye. In addition, they determined that it was vital for a sufficient number of photons to enter the mother mouse's body by late gestation. It was also noted that the photons of light activated melanopsin (a protein) directly in the fetus which helped bring about normal development of blood vessels and retinal neurons in the eye.

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