PLoS Biol.: auth.: group Franken

PLoS Biol. 2016 Aug 15;14(8):e2000111. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2000111. eCollection 2016.

Alerting or Somnogenic Light: Pick Your Color.

Author information

  • 1CNRS-UPR 3212, Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neurosciences, Sleep Disorders Center-CIRCSom, CHU and FMTS, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France.
  • 2Center for Integrative Genomics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.


In mammals, light exerts pervasive effects on physiology and behavior in two ways: indirectly through clock synchronization and the phase adjustment of circadian rhythms, and directly through the promotion of alertness and sleep, respectively, in diurnal and nocturnal species. A recent report by Pilorz and colleagues describes an even more complex role for the acute effects of light. In mice, blue light acutely causes behavioral arousal, whereas green wavelengths promote sleep. These opposing effects are mediated by melanopsin-based phototransduction through different neural pathways. These findings reconcile nocturnal and diurnal species through a common alerting response to blue light. One can hypothesize that the opposite responses to natural polychromatic light in night- or day-active animals may reflect higher sensitivity of nocturnal species to green, and diurnals to blue wavelengths, resulting in hypnogenic and alerting effects, respectively. Additional questions remain to be clarified. How do different light wavelengths affect other behaviors such as mood and cognition? How do those results apply to humans? How does light pose either a risk or benefit, depending on whether one needs to be asleep or alert? Indeed, in addition to timing, luminance levels, and light exposure duration, these findings stress the need to understand how best to adapt the color spectrum of light to our needs and to take this into account for the design of daily lighting concepts-a key challenge for today’s society, especially with the emergence of LED light technology.

PMID: 27525420