Bright-light intervention induces a dose-dependent increase in striatal response to risk in healthy volunteers

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Bright-light interventions have successfully been used to reduce depression symptoms in patients with seasonal affective disorder, a depressive disorder most frequently occurring during seasons with reduced daylight availability. Yet, little is known about how light exposure impacts human brain function, for instance on risk taking, a process affected in depressive disorders.

Here we examined the modulatory effects of bright-light exposure on brain activity during a risk-taking task. Thirty-two healthy male volunteers living in the greater Copenhagen area received 3 weeks of bright-light intervention during the winter season. Adopting a double-blinded dose-response design, bright-light was applied for 30 minutes continuously every morning. The individual dose varied between 100 and 11.000 lx. Whole-brain functional MRI was performed before and after bright-light intervention to probe how the intervention modifies risk-taking related neural activity during a two-choice gambling task. We also assessed whether inter-individual differences in the serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) genotype influenced the effects of bright-light intervention on risk processing.

Bright-light intervention led to a dose-dependent increase in risk-taking in the LA/LA group relative to the non-LA/LA group. Further, bright-light intervention enhanced risk-related activity in ventral striatum and head of caudate nucleus in proportion with the individual bright-light dose. The augmentation effect of light exposure on striatal risk processing was not influenced by the 5-HTTLPR-genotype.

This study provides novel evidence that in healthy non-depressive individuals bright-light intervention increases striatal processing to risk in a dose-dependent fashion. The findings provide converging evidence that risk processing is sensitive to bright-light exposure during winter.

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