Rapid light-induced shifts in opsin expression: finding new opsins, discerning mechanisms of change, and implications for visual sensitivity

Mol Ecol. 2011 Aug;20(16):3321-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05180.x. Epub 2011 Jul 13.


Light-induced shifts in cone frequency and opsin expression occur in many aquatic species. Yet little is known about how quickly animals can alter opsin expression and, thereby, track their visual environments. Similarly, little is known about whether adult animals can alter opsin expression or whether shifts in opsin expression are limited to critical developmental windows. We took adult wild-caught bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei) from three different lighting environments (spring, swamp and variable), placed them under two different lighting treatments (clear vs. tea-stained water) and monitored opsin expression over 4 weeks. We measured opsin expression for five previously described opsins (SWS1, SWS2B, SWS2A, RH2-1 and LWS) as well as RH2-2 which we discovered via 454 sequencing. We used two different metrics of opsin expression. We measured expression of each opsin relative to a housekeeping gene and the proportional expression of each opsin relative to the total pool of opsins. Population and lighting environment had large effects on opsin expression which were present at the earliest time points indicating rapid shifts in expression. The two measures of expression produced radically different patterns. Proportional measures indicated large effects of light on SWS1 expression, whereas relative measures indicated no such effect. Instead, light had large effects on the relative expression of SWS2B, RH2-2, RH2-1 and LWS. We suggest that proportional measures of opsin expression are best for making inferences about colour vision, but that measures relative to a housekeeping gene are better for making conclusions about which opsins are differentially regulated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fish Proteins / genetics
  • Fundulidae / genetics
  • Fundulidae / physiology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Light
  • Male
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Opsins / genetics*
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Rhodopsin / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Testis / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Wetlands


  • Fish Proteins
  • Opsins
  • Rhodopsin