A new study conducted by scientists from Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and recently published in the journal Nature, reveals information about the importance of sunlight during pregnancy for the eyesight of babies that are born prematurely. The study concluded that the eye, which requires light in order to see, also needs light to develop normally during pregnancy.
Co-author Richard Lang, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said:
“This fundamentally changes our understanding of how the retina develops. We have identified a light-response pathway that controls the number of retinal neurons. This has downstream effects on developing vasculature in the eye and is important because several major eye diseases are vascular diseases.”
Lang collaborated with David Copenhagen, PhD, a scientist in the departments of Opthalmology and Physiology at UCSF. Mouse models were used in their study which produced surprising outcomes:
Copenhagen commented, “Several stages of mouse eye development occur after birth. Because of this, we had always assumed that if light played a role in the development of the eye, it would also happen only after birth.”
The researchers in the current study revealed that the activation of the newly labeled light-response pathway must occur during pregnancy in order to achieve the precisely planned program that creates a normal eye. They point out that it is crucial for the right number of photons to reach the mother’s body by late term pregnancy.
The team of scientists completed several experiments using laboratory mouse models that let them look at the light-response pathway’s purpose and parts. Mice were raised in darkness, and in a regular day-night cycle starting at late term pregnancy to examine the comparative outcomes on vascular progression of the eye.
The scientists confirmed the purpose of the light response pathway by changing an opsin gene in mice known as Opn4 that creates melanopsin which stops the initiation of the photo pigment.
The melanopsin protein is there in both humans and mice during pregnancy. The authors say they will continue to examine how the light-response pathway might impact the probability of pre-term babies developing retinopathy of prematurity and its relatedness to other eye conditions.
So get outside and into the sunlight during your pregnancy as much as possible on a regular basis. The natural light not only helps your mood but is essential for your baby’s healthy eye development!