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Open AccessArticle

Challenging a Myth and Misconception: Red-Light Vision in Rats

Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED), Pharmaceutical Sciences (PS), Roche Innovation Center Basel, 4070 Basel, Switzerland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(3), 422;
Received: 10 February 2020 / Revised: 26 February 2020 / Accepted: 29 February 2020 / Published: 3 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Physiology)
Light substantially influences animal physiology and behavior. Thus, it is a prerequisite to house laboratory animals under optimal light conditions. Different species possess different sets of photoreceptors, resulting in differential perception of the visible-light spectrum. While humans are trichromats with red-, green- and blue-sensitive cones, rats and mice are dichromats possessing ultraviolet- and green-sensitive cones. This led to the common assumption that red light is invisible to rodents and therefore red lights are commonly used in husbandry and experiments to observe animals during their dark phase. The retinal sensitivity of rats to red light though has never been assessed under scotopic conditions (dark-adapted) even though this mimics the setting red observation lights are being used. We examined the sensitivity to far-red light of the dark- and light-adapted rat retina. Our study demonstrates that the rat retina responds to far-red light under both conditions with great sensitivity, indicating that rats are not red-light blind. This should be taken into consideration when using red light to keep the effects of light on the retina and physiology to a minimum and will improve animal well-being and lead to better quality data by decreasing the variable light.
Due to the lack of L-cones in the rodent retina, it is generally assumed that red light is invisible to rodents. Thus, red lights and red filter foils are widely used in rodent husbandry and experimentation allowing researchers to observe animals in an environment that is thought to appear dark to the animals. To better understand red-light vision in rodents, we assessed retinal sensitivity of pigmented and albino rats to far-red light by electroretinogram. We examined the sensitivity to red light not only on the light- but also dark-adapted retina, as red observation lights in husbandry are used during the dark phase of the light cycle. Intriguingly, both rods and cones of pigmented as well as albino rats show a retinal response to red light, with a high sensitivity of the dark-adapted retina and large electroretinogram responses in the mesopic range. Our results challenge the misconception of rodents being red-light blind. Researchers and housing facilities should rethink the use of red observation lights at night. View Full-Text
Keywords: electroretinogram; rat; red light; husbandry; photoreceptors; rods; cones; retina electroretinogram; rat; red light; husbandry; photoreceptors; rods; cones; retina
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Niklaus, S.; Albertini, S.; Schnitzer, T.K.; Denk, N. Challenging a Myth and Misconception: Red-Light Vision in Rats. Animals 2020, 10, 422.

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