La Morgia C, Carelli V, Sadun AA. Retina and melanopsin neurons. Handb Clin Neurol. 2021;179:315-329. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-819975-6.00020-0. PMID: 34225972.
Melanopsin retinal ganglion cells (mRGCs) are the third class of retinal photoreceptors with unique anatomical, electrophysiological, and biological features. There are different mRGC subtypes with differential projections to the brain. These cells contribute to many nonimage-forming functions of the eye, the most relevant being the photoentrainment of circadian rhythms through the projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus.
Other relevant biological functions include the regulation of the pupillary light reflex, mood, alertness, and sleep, as well as a possible role in formed vision.
The relevance of the mRGC-related pathways in the brain is highlighted by the role that the dysfunction and/or loss of these cells may play in affecting circadian rhythms and sleep in many neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease and in aging. Moreover, the occurrence of circadian dysfunction is a known risk factor for dementia.
In this chapter, the anatomy, physiology, and functions of these cells as well as their resistance to neurodegeneration in mitochondrial optic neuropathies or their predilection to be lost in other neurodegenerative disorders will be discussed.