Studies now report that babies are able to see more in the womb than what we originally thought. According to Science Daily, a study done by the researchers at the University of California -Berkeley has concluded that babies in the fetus can see more images early that previously reported. The researchers note this is a significant and detrimental phenomenon to their development.
The University of California, Berkeley, scientists have found evidence that these regular cells are actually talking to one another. The cells are part of an interconnected network that gives the retina a lot more light sensitivity than once thought. This enhanced light sensitivity enhances the influence of light on behavior and brain development in ways that aren't totally understood yet.
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In developing baby fetuses eyes there is roughly 3% of ganglion cells and those cells send messages through the optic nerve into the brain. Those developing cells are sensitive to light and so far researchers have found about six different subtypes that communicate with various places in the brain. The developing baby sight isn't the only thing that is evolving but the perihabenula, which regulates mood, and the amygdala also deals with emotions.
The study examined how this occurs in mice and monkeys and the evidence suggests that these ganglion cells talk to one another through the electrical connections named gap junctions which implies more complexity in immature rodent and primate eyes than previously recorded.
These cells are called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) and were discovered approximately 10 years ago. Marla Feller, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology has been studying the developing retina for almost 20 years. She and her mentor, Carla Shatz of Stanford University played a major role in showing that the spontaneous electrical activity in the eye during development in the fetus or better known as retinal waves are critical for developing the correct brain networks that process images later on post-delivery.
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"Given the variety of these ganglion cells and that they project to many different parts of the brain, it makes me wonder whether they play a role in how the retina connects up to the brain," said Feller, who also is the author of a paper that appeared in the journal Current Biology. "Maybe not for visual circuits, but for non-vision behaviours. Not only the pupillary light reflex and circadian rhythms, but possibly explaining problems like light-induced migraines, or why light therapy works for depression."
The researchers also found evidence that supports that the eyes and brain signals tune itself in such a way that it could adapt to the intensity of light. Feller believes this probably has an important role in development.