The human habenula is responsive to changes in luminance and circadian rhythm
Number of pages
SourceNeuroImage, 189, (2019), pp. 581-588
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC SMN
SubjectAction, intention, and motor control
The habenula is a pivotal structure in the neural network that implements various forms of cognitive and motivational functions and behaviors. Moreover, it has been suggested to be part of the brain's circadian system, not at least because habenular neurons are responsive to retinal illumination and exhibit circadian modulations of their firing patterns in animal research. However, no study has directly investigated the human habenula in this regard. We developed a paradigm in which alternating phases of high and low luminance are used to study human habenular functioning. In two experiments with independent samples, fMRI data of 24 healthy participants were acquired at a field strength of 7T, and of 21 healthy participants at 3T. Region of interest analyses revealed that the human habenula is responsive to light as well, resulting in a decrease in activation when a change in luminance occurs. Although this pattern is not predicted by animal research, we were able to replicate this finding in a second independent data set. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the strength of decrease in activation is modulated in a circadian fashion, being more strongly deactivated in morning than in afternoon sessions. Taken together, these findings provide strong evidence that changes in illumination elicit changes in habenular activation and that these changes appear to be more pronounced in the morning than in the afternoon.
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