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Optical and electrical characteristics of quantum cascade lasers, made in the GaAs-Al/sub x/Ga/sub 1-x/As material system, show persistent changes at low temperatures, when devices are illuminated with an external white light. The magnitude of the effect is a function of the exposure time and finally saturates. The induced variation on the threshold current density of the lasers is more than 30%. This effect is related to the presence of deep donors (DX centers) in the high aluminum content AlGaAs cladding layers, which under illumination release electrons, thus increasing waveguide losses. By analyzing the light induced variations of the optical characteristics we were able to deduce the waveguide losses of our devices.