Rhodopsin: insights from recent structural studies

Annu Rev Biophys Biomol Struct. 2002;31:443-84. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biophys.31.082901.134348. Epub 2001 Oct 25.


The recent report of the crystal structure of rhodopsin provides insights concerning structure-activity relationships in visual pigments and related G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The seven transmembrane helices of rhodopsin are interrupted or kinked at multiple sites. An extensive network of interhelical interactions stabilizes the ground state of the receptor. The ligand-binding pocket of rhodopsin is remarkably compact, and several chromophore-protein interactions were not predicted from mutagenesis or spectroscopic studies. The helix movement model of receptor activation, which likely applies to all GPCRs of the rhodopsin family, is supported by several structural elements that suggest how light-induced conformational changes in the ligand-binding pocket are transmitted to the cytoplasmic surface. The cytoplasmic domain of the receptor includes a helical domain extending from the seventh transmembrane segment parallel to the bilayer surface. The cytoplasmic surface appears to be approximately large enough to bind to the transducin heterotrimer in a one-to-one complex. The structural basis for several unique biophysical properties of rhodopsin, including its extremely low dark noise level and high quantum efficiency, can now be addressed using a combination of structural biology and various spectroscopic methods. Future high-resolution structural studies of rhodopsin and other GPCRs will form the basis to elucidate the detailed molecular mechanism of GPCR-mediated signal transduction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Binding
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Rhodopsin / chemistry*
  • Rhodopsin / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Time Factors


  • Ligands
  • Rhodopsin