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A recent study indicates that exposure to increased levels of light can positively affect brain activity, particularly in the hypothalamus, leading to improved cognitive function and wakefulness. This study, published in eLife, advances understanding of the biological impact of light on human behavior and brain health, providing insights into its neural mechanisms.

Light intensity affect hypothalamus differently

Lead author Islay Campbell from the University of Liège in Belgium said that translating research findings from animal models to humans regarding the effects of light exposure on the brain is challenging due to the more complex cognitive processing in humans. Specifically, it’s unclear whether hypothalamus nuclei play a role in the stimulating effect of light on cognition.

In the study, 26 healthy young adults underwent cognitive tasks in varying light conditions, ranging from darkness to bright light, while being scanned with ultra-high resolution 7 Tesla functional MRI. The tasks tested executive functioning and emotional processing. The researchers focused on how light levels impacted activity in specific hypothalamic regions, uncovering significant patterns.

According to findings varying light levels affect different parts of the hypothalamus differently. While increased light boosts activity in the posterior section, it decreases activity in the inferior and anterior areas. This suggests that cognitive performance could be influenced by these responses.

Certain brain cells triggered in high light conditions to enhance cognition

Researchers discovered a correlation between increased light levels and improved performance on higher-order cognition tasks among participants. Interestingly, this enhancement was associated with decreased activity in the posterior hypothalamus. However, the researchers suggest that this decrease in activity does not directly cause the cognitive improvement, indicating the involvement of other brain regions.

There is correlation between posterior hypothalamus activity and behavioral responses in emotional processing tasks, suggesting that the relationship between this brain area and cognition varies depending on the task context. The study also highlights the recruitment of specific brain cells to enhance cognitive performance in high light conditions and calls for further research to understand the influence of light on brain networks and their interaction with the cortex.