Vertebrate photoreceptors are categorized into two broad classes, rods and cones, responsible for dim- and bright-light vision, respectively. While many molecular features that distinguish rods and cones are known, gene expression differences among cone subtypes remain poorly understood. Teleost fishes are renowned for the diversity of their photoreceptor systems. Here, we used single-cell RNA-seq to profile adult photoreceptors in zebrafish, a teleost. We found that in addition to the four canonical zebrafish cone types, there exist subpopulations of green and red cones (previously shown to be located in the ventral retina) that express red-shifted opsin paralogs (opn1mw4 or opn1lw1) as well as a unique combination of cone phototransduction genes. Furthermore, the expression of many paralogous phototransduction genes is partitioned among cone subtypes, analogous to the partitioning of the phototransduction paralogs between rods and cones seen across vertebrates. The partitioned cone-gene pairs arose via the teleost-specific whole-genome duplication or later clade-specific gene duplications. We also discovered that cone subtypes express distinct transcriptional regulators, including many factors not previously implicated in photoreceptor development or differentiation. Overall, our work suggests that partitioning of paralogous gene expression via the action of differentially expressed transcriptional regulators enables diversification of cone subtypes in teleosts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17340
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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