Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Light plays a critical role in regulating physiology and behavior, including both visual and non-visual responses. In mammals, loss of both eyes abolishes all of these responses, demonstrating that the photoreceptors involved are exclusively ocular. By contrast, many non-mammalian species possess extra-ocular photoreceptors located in the pineal complex and deep brain. Whilst there have been suggestions of extra-ocular photoreception in mammals, including man, evidence for these photoreceptors is limited. One approach to objectively determine the presence of such receptors is to measure brain responses to light using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Moreover, by using participants who are clinically anophthalmic (congenital and acquired), it is possible to investigate potential light detection in the absence of the retina. Here we scanned participants with anophthalmia and sighted participants in 4 different conditions; the first 3 conditions had a bright light source applied to the following locations: behind the right ear ("ear"), just below the nasal bridge and between the eyes ("head"), and at the right popliteal fossa ("knee"). In the fourth and final scan, the light source was switched off so that there was no light stimulus. All participants were scanned in a completely dark room. No consistent brain activity was detected during any of the light conditions in either sighted controls or anophthalmic participants. Thus, we do not provide any evidence for the presence of extraocular photoreceptors modulating human brain activity, despite recent evidence for gene transcription that may occur as a result of these photoreceptors.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Neurosci

Publication Date





blindness, functional MRI, non-image forming, resting state MRI, vision