How vision begins: an odyssey

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jul 22;105(29):9855-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0708405105. Epub 2008 Jul 16.


Retinal rods and cones, which are the front-end light detectors in the eye, achieve wonders together by being able to signal single-photon absorption and yet also able to adjust their function to brightness changes spanning 10(9)-fold. How these cells detect light is now quite well understood. Not surprising for almost any biological process, the intial step of seeing reveals a rich complexity as the probing goes deeper. The odyssey continues, but the knowledge gained so far is already nothing short of remarkable in qualitative and quantitative detail. It has also indirectly opened up the mystery of odorant sensing. Basic science aside, clinical ophthalmology has benefited tremendously from this endeavor as well. This article begins by recapitulating the key developments in this understanding from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, during which period the advances were particularly rapid and fit for an intricate detective story. It then highlights some details discovered more recently, followed by a comparison between rods and cones.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cyclic GMP / physiology
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Research / history
  • Retinal Pigments / history
  • Retinal Pigments / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Retinal Pigments
  • Cyclic GMP