Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 375–383 | Cite as

Of Mice and Women: Light as a Circadian Stimulus in Breast Cancer Research

  • John D. BulloughEmail author
  • Mark S. Rea
  • Mariana G. Figueiro
Review Article



Nocturnal rodents are frequently used as models in human breast cancer research, but these species have very different visual and circadian systems and, therefore, very different responses to optical radiation or, informally, light. Because of the impact of light on the circadian system and because recent evidence suggests that cancer risk might be related to circadian disruption, it is becoming increasingly clear that optical radiation must be properly characterized for both nocturnal rodents and diurnal humans to make significant progress in unraveling links between circadian disruption and breast cancer. In this paper, we propose a quantitative framework for comparing radiometric and photometric quantities in human and rodent studies.


We reviewed published research on light as a circadian stimulus for humans and rodents. Both suppression of nocturnal melatonin and phase shifting were examined as outcome measures for the circadian system.


The data were used to develop quantitative comparisons regarding the absolute and spectral sensitivity for the circadian systems of humans and nocturnal rodents.


Two models of circadian phototransduction, for mouse and humans, have been published providing spectral sensitivities for these two species. Despite some methodological variations among the studies reviewed, the circadian systems of nocturnal rodents are approximately 10,000 times more sensitive to optical radiation than that of humans. Circadian effectiveness of different sources for both humans and nocturnal rodents are offered together with a scale relating their absolute sensitivities. Instruments calibrated in terms of conventional photometric units (e.g., lux) will not accurately characterize the circadian stimulus for either humans or rodents.


Melatonin suppression Phase shifting Breast cancer Animal studies Lighting 



Preparation of this manuscript was supported by the Lighting Research Center and by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant ES11659.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • John D. Bullough
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark S. Rea
    • 1
  • Mariana G. Figueiro
    • 1
  1. 1.Lighting Research CenterRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA

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