Retinal circadian rhythms in humans

Arja Tuunainen, Daniel F. Kripke, Anthony C. Cress, Shawn D. Youngstedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Circadian rhythms in the retina may reflect intrinsic rhythms in the eye. Previous reports on circadian variability in electrophysiological human retinal measures have been scanty, and the results have been somewhat inconsistent. We studied the circadian variation of the electrooculography (EOG), electroretinography (ERG), and visual threshold (VTH) in subjects undergoing a 36h testing period. We used an ultrashort sleep-wake cycle to balance effects of sleep and light-dark across circadian cycles. Twelve healthy volunteers (10 males, 2 females; mean age 26.3 years, standard deviation [SD] 8.0 years, range 19-40 years) participated in the study. The retinal functions and oral temperature were measured every 90 min. The EOG was measured in the light, whereas the ERG and the VTH were measured in the dark. Sleep was inferred from activity detected by an Actillume monitor. The EOG peak-to-peak responses followed a circadian rhythm, with the peak occurring late in the morning (acrophase 12:22). The ERG b-wave implicit time peaked in the early morning (acrophase 06:46). No statistically significant circadian rhythms could be demonstrated in the ERG a-wave implicit time or peak-to-peak amplitude. The VTH rhythm peaked in the early morning (acrophases 07:59 for blue and 07:32 for red stimuli). All retinal rhythms showed less-consistent acrophases than the temperature and sleep rhythms. This study demonstrated several different circadian rhythms in retinal electrophysiological and psychophysical measures of healthy subjects. As the retinal rhythms had much poorer signal-to-noise ratios than the temperature rhythm, these measures cannot be recommended as circadian markers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)957-971
Number of pages15
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Circadian rhythms
  • Electrooculography (EOG)
  • Electroretinography (ERG)
  • Retina
  • Visual threshold (VTH)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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