I have investigated the effect on bovine rhodopsin's absorbance spectrum of charged amino acid changes in the putative membrane-spanning regions. A total of 14 site-directed mutants were constructed at 6 amino acid positions: 83, 86, 122, 134, 135, and 211. Two of these positions are occupied by charged amino acids that are conserved in all four human visual pigments (positions 134 and 135). In the four variable positions, single and double mutants were constructed to reproduce the intramembrane distribution of charged amino acids predicted for each human cone pigment. Following solubilization in digitonin and reconstitution with 11-cis-retinal, the photobleaching difference spectrum of each pigment was determined in the presence of hydroxylamine. The absorbance spectra of the mutant pigments are all surprisingly close to that of native bovine rhodopsin (lambda max = 498 nm), ruling out a significant role for these residues in spectral tuning.