The frequency of isomerization-like 'dark' events in rhodopsin and porphyropsin rods of the bull-frog retina

J Physiol. 1990 Sep:428:673-92. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1990.sp018234.


1. The dark current and responses to dim flashes were recorded with the suction pipette technique from single rods in pieces of bull-frog retina taken from either the dorsal porphyropsin or the ventral rhodopsin field. 2. The composition of visual pigment in the rods was determined by microspectrophotometry. Rods from the dorsal pieces contained 70-88% porphyropsin523 mixed with rhodopsin502. The ventral rods contained almost pure rhodopsin, any possible admixture of porphyropsin being below the level of detectability (less than 5%). 3. In most cells, the responses to dim flashes were well fitted by a four-stage linear filter model, with no systematic differences in the response kinetics of porphyropsin and rhodopsin rods. The amplitude of saturated responses varied between 8 and 55 pA and that of responses to single isomerizations between 0.4 and 3.5 pA. 4. In porphyropsin rods, discrete events similar to the response to one photoisomerization were clearly seen in complete darkness. The dark current amplitude histogram was fitted by a convolution of the probability densities for the Gaussian continuous noise component and the averaged dim-flash response waveform. This allows estimation of the frequency and amplitude of discrete events and the standard deviation of the continuous component. The mean frequency of discrete dark events thus obtained from six porphyropsin cells was 0.057 rod-1 s-1 at 18 degrees C. 5. In rhodopsin rods, the dark current amplitude histogram appeared completely symmetrical, indicating that the frequency of discrete events must be lower than 0.005 rod-1 s-1 (except in one rod where it was 0.006 events rod-1 s-1). Per molecule of rhodopsin, the events are then at least 5 times rarer than reported for toad rhodopsin rods at the same temperature. 6. The low rate of isomerization-like 'dark' events in bull-frog rhodopsin rods shows, firstly, that results cannot be generalized across species even for rhodopsins which appear spectrally identical. Secondly, it suggests that these events need not (in an evolutionary sense) constitute an irreducible noise factor which must set the ultimate limit to the sensitivity of dark-adapted vision. 7. The difference between porphyropsin and rhodopsin rods shows that, given (presumably) the same opsin, the pigment utilizing retinal2 and absorbing maximally at longer wavelengths produces more noise. The signal/noise ratio attained in the photoreceptor may be an important factor in the natural selection of visual pigments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dark Adaptation*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Isomerism
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Rana catesbeiana
  • Retinal Pigments / physiology*
  • Rhodopsin / physiology*


  • Retinal Pigments
  • porphyropsin
  • Rhodopsin