Occupancy of the chromophore binding site of opsin activates visual transduction in rod photoreceptors

Vladimir J. Kefalov, M. Carter Cornwall, Rosalie K. Crouch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The retinal analogue β-ionone was used to investigate possible physiological effects of the noncovalent interaction between rod opsin and its chromophore 11-cis retinal. Isolated salamander rod photoreceptors were exposed to bright light that bleached a significant fraction of their pigment, were allowed to recover to a steady state, and then were exposed to β-ionone. Our experiments show that in bleach-adapted rods β-ionone causes a decrease in light sensitivity and dark current and an acceleration of the dim flash photoresponse and the rate constants of guanylyl cyclase and cGMP phosphodiesterase. Together, these observations indicate that in bleach- adapted rods β-ionone activates phototransduction in the dark. Control experiments showed no effect of β-ionone in either fully dark-adapted or background light-adapted cells, indicating direct interaction of β-ionone with the free opsin produced by bleaching. We speculate that β-ionone binds specifically in the chromophore pocket of opsin to produce a complex that is more catalytically potent than free opsin alone. We hypothesize that a similar reaction may occur in the intact retina during pigment regeneration. We propose a model of rod pigment regeneration in which binding of 11-cis retinal to opsin leads to activation of the complex accompanied by a decrease in light sensitivity. The subsequent covalent attachment of retinal to opsin completely inactivates opsin and leads to the recovery of sensitivity. Our findings resolve the conflict between biochemical and physiological data concerning the effect of the occupancy of the chromophore binding site on the catalytic potency of opsin. We show that binding of β-ionone to rod opsin produces effects opposite to its previously described effects on cone opsin. We propose that this distinction is due to a fundamental difference in the interaction of rod and cone opsins with retinal, which may have implications for the different physiology of the two types of photoreceptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-503
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1999


  • Bleaching adaptation
  • Dark adaptation
  • Pigment regeneration
  • Visual pigments
  • β-ionone


Dive into the research topics of 'Occupancy of the chromophore binding site of opsin activates visual transduction in rod photoreceptors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this