Bright light activates a trigeminal nociceptive pathway

Keiichiro Okamoto, Akimasa Tashiro, Zheng Chang, David A. Bereiter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Bright light can cause ocular discomfort and/or pain; however, the mechanism linking luminance to trigeminal nerve activity is not known. In this study we identify a novel reflex circuit necessary for bright light to excite nociceptive neurons in superficial laminae of trigeminal subnucleus caudalis (Vc/C1). Vc/C1 neurons encoded light intensity and displayed a long delay (>10 s) for activation. Microinjection of lidocaine into the eye or trigeminal root ganglion (TRG) inhibited light responses completely, whereas topical application onto the ocular surface had no effect. These findings indicated that light-evoked Vc/C1 activity was mediated by an intraocular mechanism and transmission through the TRG. Disrupting local vasomotor activity by intraocular microinjection of the vasoconstrictive agents, norepinephrine or phenylephrine, blocked light-evoked neural activity, whereas ocular surface or intra-TRG microinjection of norepinephrine had no effect. Pupillary muscle activity did not contribute since light-evoked responses were not altered by atropine. Microinjection of lidocaine into the superior salivatory nucleus diminished light-evoked Vc/C1 activity and lacrimation suggesting that increased parasympathetic outflow was critical for light-evoked responses. The reflex circuit also required input through accessory visual pathways since both Vc/C1 activity and lacrimation were prevented by local blockade of the olivary pretectal nucleus. These findings support the hypothesis that bright light activates trigeminal nerve activity through an intraocular mechanism driven by a luminance-responsive circuit and increased parasympathetic outflow to the eye.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-242
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank R. Thompson for excellent technical assistance and Dr. H. Hirata for early contributions to this project. The authors have no financial or other relationships to report that might lead to a conflict of interest. This work was supported by a grant from the NIH ( NS26137 ).


  • Light
  • Ocular pain
  • Photophobia
  • Trigeminal subnucleus caudalis


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