Lights at night mediate depression-like behavioral and molecular phenotypes in a glucocorticoid-dependent manner in male rats

Zhenlong Li, Chau Shoun Lee, Hsien Yu Peng, Tzer Bin Lin, Ming Chun Hsieh, Cheng Yuan Lai, Dylan Chou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nocturnal light pollution, an underappreciated mood manipulator, disturbs the circadian rhythms of individuals in modern society. Preclinical and clinical studies have suggested that exposure to lights at night (LANs) results in depression-like phenotypes. However, the mechanism underlying the action of LANs remains unclear. Therefore, this study explored the potential influence of LANs on depression-related brain regions by testing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), synaptic transmission, and plasticity in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Depression-related behavioral tests, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, and intracellular and extracellular electrophysiological recordings were performed. Resultantly, rats exposed to either white or blue LAN for 5 or 21 days exhibited depression-like behaviors. Both white and blue LANs reduced BDNF expression in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG). Moreover, both lights at night (LANs) elevated the plasma corticosterone levels. Pharmacologically, the activation of glucocorticoid receptors mimics the LAN-mediated effects on depression-like behaviors and reduces BDNF levels, whereas the inhibition of glucocorticoid receptors blocks LAN-mediated behavioral and molecular actions. Electrophysiologically, both LANs attenuated the stimulation-response curve, increased the paired-pulse ratio, and decreased the frequency and amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents in the vlPAG. In the mPFC, LANs attenuate long-term potentiation and long-term depression. Collectively, these results suggested that white and blue LANs disturbed BDNF expression, synaptic transmission, and plasticity in the vlPAG and mPFC in a glucocorticoid-dependent manner. The results of the present study provide a theoretical basis for understanding the effects of nocturnal light exposure on depression-like phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109888
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2024


  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • Depression-like behavior
  • Light at night
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Synaptic transmission and plasticity
  • Ventrolateral periaqueductal gray

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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