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Aurora magazine

A fetus sees more than you think

A team from the University of California examined fetal retina cells at different levels of development. Analyzes show that in the second trimester, long before being able to distinguish images, the fetus is able to perceive light. According to the researchers, this could influence the development itself.

The cells of the retina that perceive light develop within the second trimester: it was already known. Until now, scientists considered them a tool of the fetus to align with maternal rhythms. Instead, these cells communicate with each other and give the eye greater sensitivity than was previously believed.

Retinal ganglion cells send messages through the optic nerve to the brain. In a developing eye, functioning cells are about 3% and communicate with different areas of the brain. Some of them interface with the areas responsible for the wake-sleep cycle. Others send the signals that regulate pupil movements. Finally, these cells connect with the areas that regulate mood and emotions.This last fact surprised the scientists.

Starting from the analyzes on mice and monkeys, the scientists analyzed the role of ganglion cells in fetal development. They could even be the basis of migraines, or explain why light therapy helps against depression.