A new study reports short-wave visible blue light has adverse effects on mitochondrial function, while red light may pose some therapeutic properties to reverse the damage. The finding is especially notable in eye care, as retinal ganglion cells need high levels of mitochondrial activity to function.

In the investigation, published in Neurochemistry International, researchers showed that blue light caused oxidative stress and decreased cell survival. But long-wavelength red light enhanced mitochondrial function, and that in turn increased survival of cultured retinal cells and reduced the effects of blue light.

The study also found induction of retinal ischemia for 60 minutes in dark conditions caused a reduction in adenosine triphosphate levels accompanied by decreased retinal ganglion cell numbers in all areas of the retina.

“These effects were diminished when ischemia was induced with concomitant delivery of red light, and exacerbated when blue light was used,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

Increasing levels of red light on the retina might be used to treat glaucoma where mitochondrial dysfunctions occur, investigators suggested.

 “Our findings also show that exposing the retina to red light may be a therapeutic approach to supporting healthy mitochondrial functions as part of the treatment for retinal diseases in which these organelles are affected,” the researchers concluded. 

Núñez-Álvarez C, Osborne NN. Blue light exacerbates and red light counteracts negative insults to retinal ganglion cells in situ and R28 cells in vitro. Neurochem Int. Feb. 27, 2019 (E-pub, ahead of print).