A team of Northwestern Medicine scientists have determined that spending too much time indoors could cause myopia or nearsightedness in kids. The team found that the development of a cell in the retina is influenced by the amount of natural light one gets during childhood.

This retinal cell, which has been named ON Delayed, is very sensitive to light. It controls how the eye grows and develops. “This discovery could lead to a new therapeutic target to control myopia,” pointed out the study’s lead investigator Greg Schwartz, who is also an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

If the ON Delayed cell instructs the eye to grow too long, the retina would not be able to focus on the images seen. This causes nearsightedness. This condition can only be solved by wearing corrective glasses or contact lenses permanently.

This has been linked to spending too much time indoors. Apparently, the light spectrum found indoors has high red/green contrast.

This activates the clusters of photoreceptors in our eyes, which results in the development of an artificial contrast image on our retina. However, this can overstimulate the ON Delayed cell, causing overgrowth of the eye and resulting to nearsightedness as mentioned.

The researchers utilized microscopic glass electrodes to record the electrical signals from cells in the retina of a mouse. They presented different patterns of light on a digital projector.

The article describing the findings has been named titled “Circuit Mechanisms of a Retinal Ganglion Cell with Stimulus-Dependent Response Latency and Activation Beyond Its Dendrites.” The study was published online Jan. 26 and it would be published in the physical copy of the Feb. 20 issue of the Current Biology.

This investigation is actually just a part of the researchers’ larger study to determine how to reverse engineer the retina by determining the several retinal cell types found in mice. Experts say that there are around 50 types of retinal ganglion cells, which produces all the information we observe in the world when combined together.

Each of these cells has their special role to play. They give us different visual information, which includes any movement or color we perceive at any time. According to the study’s lead researcher, he wants to find out the new retinal cells by their specific function. He would analyze their genetic signatures and would try how each of the cells is connected within the retina.

Schwartz also wants to identify what brain parts these cells target. This could eventually result in the treatment of blindness using gene therapy as well as the enhancement of the function of artificial retinal prosthetics currently used.

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