Ocular diurnal rhythms and eye growth regulation: Where we are 50 years after Lauber

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Many ocular processes show diurnal oscillations that optimize retinal function under the different conditions of ambient illumination encountered over the course of the 24 h light/dark cycle. Abolishing the diurnal cues by the use of constant darkness or constant light results in excessive ocular elongation, corneal flattening, and attendant refractive errors. A prevailing hypothesis is that the absence of the Zeitgeber of light and dark alters ocular circadian rhythms in some manner, and results in an inability of the eye to regulate its growth in order to achieve emmetropia, the matching of the front optics to eye length. Another visual manipulation that results in the eye growth system going into a “default” mode of excessive growth is form deprivation, in which a translucent diffuser deprives the eye of visual transients (spatial or temporal) while not significantly reducing light levels; these eyes rapidly elongate and become myopic. It has been hypothesized that form deprivation might constitute a type of “constant condition” whereby the absence of visual transients drives the eye into a similar default mode as that in response to constant light or dark. Interest in the potential influence of light cycles and ambient lighting in human myopia development has been spurred by a recent study showing a positive association between the amount of time that children spent outdoors and a reduced prevalence of myopia. The growing eyes of chickens and monkeys show a diurnal rhythm in axial length: Eyes elongate more during the day than during the night. There is also a rhythm in choroidal thickness that is in approximate anti-phase to the rhythm in eye length. The phases are altered in eyes growing too fast, in response to form deprivation or negative lenses, or too slowly, in response to myopic defocus, suggesting an influence of phase on the emmetropization system. Other potential rhythmic influences include dopamine and melatonin, which form a reciprocal feedback loop, and signal “day” and “night” respectively. Retinal dopamine is reduced during the day in form deprived myopic eyes, and dopamine D2 agonists inhibit ocular growth in animal models. Rhythms in intraocular pressure as well, may influence eye growth, perhaps as a mechanical stimulus triggering changes in scleral extracellular matrix synthesis. Finally, evidence shows varying influences of environmental lighting parameters on the emmetropization system, such as high intensity light being protective against myopia in chickens. This review will cover the evidence for the possible influence of these various factors on ocular growth. The recognition that ocular rhythms may play a role in emmetropization is a first step toward understanding how they may be manipulated in treatment therapies to prevent myopia in humans.


▸ Rhythms in axial length and choroid thickness may be involved in eye growth. ▸ Rhythms in the sclera and IOP may be involved in eye growth. ▸ Rhythms in dopamine and melatonin may be involved in eye growth. ▸ The possible roles of light cycles and intensity in eye growth are discussed.

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