Cone opsin genes of african cichlid fishes: tuning spectral sensitivity by differential gene expression

Mol Biol Evol. 2001 Aug;18(8):1540-50. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a003940.


Spectral tuning of visual pigments is typically accomplished through changes in opsin amino acid sequence. Within a given opsin class, changes at a few key sites control wavelength specificity. To investigate known differences in the visual pigment spectral sensitivity of the Lake Malawi cichlids, Metriaclima zebra (368, 488, and 533 nm) and Dimidiochromis compressiceps (447, 536, and 569 nm), we sequenced cone opsin genes from these species as well as Labeotropheus fuelleborni and Oreochromis niloticus. These cichlids have five distinct classes of cone opsin genes, including two unique SWS-2 genes. Comparisons of the inferred amino acid sequences from the five cone opsin genes of M. zebra, D. compressiceps, and L. fuelleborni show the sequences to be nearly identical. Therefore, evolution of key opsin sites cannot explain the differences in visual pigment sensitivities. Real-time PCR demonstrates that different cichlid species express different subsets of the available cone opsin genes. Metriaclima zebra and L. fuelleborni express a complement of genes which give them UV-shifted visual pigments, while D. compressiceps expresses a different set to produce a red-shifted visual system. Thus, variations in cichlid spectral sensitivity have arisen through evolution of gene regulation, rather than through changes in opsin amino acid sequence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Perches / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / chemistry
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Rod Opsins / chemistry
  • Rod Opsins / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Spectrophotometry


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Rod Opsins
  • DNA

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF247113
  • GENBANK/AF247114
  • GENBANK/AF247115
  • GENBANK/AF247116
  • GENBANK/AF247117
  • GENBANK/AF247118
  • GENBANK/AF247119
  • GENBANK/AF247120
  • GENBANK/AF247121
  • GENBANK/AF247122
  • GENBANK/AF247123
  • GENBANK/AF247124
  • GENBANK/AF247125
  • GENBANK/AF247126
  • GENBANK/AF247127
  • GENBANK/AF247128