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Melanopsin-based vision in health and disease

Final Report Summary - MELOVISION (Melanopsin-based vision in health and disease)

How do we see? Textbook explanations start with photoreception by rod and cone cells in the retina. In the course of this ERC award we have shown that vision can also originate with a quite independent type of photoreception, reliant on a protein called melanopsin. Melanopsin is also found in the retina but not in rod or cone cells. We have shown that melanopsin can produce help the brain to detect at least two sorts of visual events. On the one hand, melanopsin is important in allowing the brain to track, and respond to, gradual changes in background light intensity. On the other, it works alongside rods and cones to allow us to distinguish visual patterns. Together these features make melanopsin an important component of our visual system. We have also shown that they allow melanopsin to support rudimentary vision in retinal degeneration. During retinal degeneration, rods and cones are lost leaving melanopsin the sole source of photoreception. We find that in these conditions melanopsin activity is also damaged but that it can provide some ability to detect visual stimuli. In order to study melanopsin’s contribution to vision we have had to devise a new sort of visual display. All modern displays (TVs, tablets, smartphones, monitors, cinema projections etc) recreate images by combining three colour planes (red, green and blue). We have shown that inclusion of one or more additional colour planes can produce displays that also present patterns visible to melanopsin, and that these enhance the visual system’s representation of the scene. We hope that this realization will lead to a new generation of displays targeting melanopsin to improve visual appearance.