Rod and cone photoreceptors: molecular basis of the difference in their physiology

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2008 Aug;150(4):369-77. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2008.04.600. Epub 2008 Apr 26.


Vertebrate retinal photoreceptors consist of two types of cells, the rods and cones. Rods are highly light-sensitive but their flash response time course is slow, so that they can detect a single photon in the dark but are not good at detecting an object moving quickly. Cones are less light-sensitive and their flash response time course is fast, so that cones mediate daylight vision and are more suitable to detect a moving object than rods. The phototransduction mechanism was virtually known by the mid 80s, and detailed mechanisms of the generation of a light response are now understood in a highly quantitative manner at the molecular level. However, most of these studies were performed in rods, but not in cones. Therefore, the mechanisms of low light-sensitivity or fast flash response time course in cones have not been known. The major reason for this slow progress in the study of cone phototransduction was due to the inability of getting a large quantity of purified cones to study them biochemically. We succeeded in its purification using carp retina, and have shown that each step responsible for generation of a light response is less effective in cones and that the reactions responsible for termination of a light response are faster in cones. Based on these findings, we speculated a possible mechanism of evolution of rods that diverged from cones.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Carps
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Light
  • Models, Biological
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Rhodopsin / metabolism
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Urodela
  • Vertebrates
  • Vision, Ocular*


  • Rhodopsin
  • Calcium