Evolution of the visual cycle: the role of retinoid-binding proteins

J Endocrinol. 2002 Oct;175(1):75-88. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1750075.


The trafficking of retinoids in the retina represents a model to study soluble hormone-binding proteins in a complex system subject to profound evolutionary adaptations. Although a remarkable illustration of convergent evolution, all visual systems detect light in the same way, that is through the photoisomerization of an 11-cis retinoid to a corresponding trans isomer. What is strikingly different between the systems, is the mechanism by which the 11-cis chromophore is reformed and visual pigment regenerated in a process known as the visual cycle. The variations of the cycle address a problem inherent to retinoids themselves. That is, the properties that make these molecules suited for light detection also account for their susceptibility to oxidative and isomeric degradation, and cellular toxicity. The cycle therefore provides an opportunity to examine the role of soluble hormone-binding proteins within an integrative and evolutionary context. The present review focuses on interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP), a controversial glycolipoprotein that recruits a protein fold common to Cterminal-processing proteases and the crotonase family. This unorthodox retinoid-binding protein is entrapped in the subretinal compartment of those eyes that translocate visual cycle retinoids between the photoreceptors and the retinal pigment epithelium. Recent studies suggest that we should look beyond a strictly carrier function if we are to appreciate the role of IRBP in the visual cycle. Here we draw lessons from other soluble hormone-binding proteins to anticipate avenues of future research likely to provide insight into the structure and function of IRBP in vision.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Isomerism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / metabolism
  • Retinoids / metabolism
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Xenopus


  • Retinoids
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins