Signal transducing membrane complexes of photoreceptor outer segments

Vision Res. 2008 Sep;48(20):2052-61. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2008.03.010. Epub 2008 May 5.


Signal transduction in outer segments of vertebrate photoreceptors is mediated by a series of reactions among multiple polypeptides that form protein-protein complexes within or on the surface of the disk and plasma membranes. The individual components in the activation reactions include the photon receptor rhodopsin and the products of its absorption of light, the three subunits of the G protein, transducin, the four subunits of the cGMP phosphodiesterase, PDE6 and the four subunits of the cGMP-gated cation channel. Recovery involves membrane complexes with additional polypeptides including the Na(+)/Ca(2+), K(+) exchanger, NCKX2, rhodopsin kinases RK1 and RK7, arrestin, guanylate cyclases, guanylate cyclase activating proteins, GCAP1 and GCAP2, and the GTPase accelerating complex of RGS9-1, G(beta5L), and membrane anchor R9AP. Modes of membrane binding by these polypeptides include transmembrane helices, fatty acyl or isoprenyl modifications, polar interactions with lipid head groups, non-polar interactions of hydrophobic side chains with lipid hydrocarbon phase, and both polar and non-polar protein-protein interactions. In the course of signal transduction, complexes among these polypeptides form and dissociate, and undergo structural rearrangements that are coupled to their interactions with and catalysis of reactions by small molecules and ions, including guanine nucleotides, ATP, Ca(2+), Mg(2+), and lipids. The substantial progress that has been made in understanding the composition and function of these complexes is reviewed, along with the more preliminary state of our understanding of the structures of these complexes and the challenges and opportunities that present themselves for deepening our understanding of these complexes, and how they work together to convert a light signal into an electrical signal.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Light Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Rhodopsin / metabolism
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / physiology*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Transducin / physiology


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Rhodopsin
  • Transducin