A non-mammalian type opsin 5 functions dually in the photoreceptive and non-photoreceptive organs of birds

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031534. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


A mammalian type opsin 5 (neuropsin) is a recently identified ultraviolet (UV)-sensitive pigment of the retina and other photosensitive organs in birds. Two other opsin 5-related molecules have been found in the genomes of non-mammalian vertebrates. However, their functions have not been examined as yet. Here, we identify the molecular properties of a second avian opsin 5, cOpn5L2 (chicken opsin 5-like 2), and its localization in the post-hatch chicken. Spectrophotometric analysis and radionucleotide-binding assay have revealed that cOpn5L2 is a UV-sensitive bistable pigment that couples with the Gi subtype of guanine nucleotide-binding protein (G protein). As a bistable pigment, it also shows the direct binding ability to agonist all-trans-retinal to activate G protein. The absorption maxima of UV-light-absorbing and visible light-absorbing forms were 350 and 521 nm, respectively. Expression analysis showed relatively high expression of cOpn5L2 mRNA in the adrenal gland, which is not photoreceptive but an endocrine organ, while lower expression was found in the brain and retina. At the protein level, cOpn5L2 immunoreactive cells were present in the chromaffin cells of the adrenal gland. In the brain, cOpn5L2 immunoreactive cells were found in the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, known for photoreceptive deep brain areas. In the retina, cOpn5L2 protein was localized to subsets of cells in the ganglion cell layer and the inner nuclear layer. These results suggest that the non-mammalian type opsin 5 (Opn5L2) functions as a second UV sensor in the photoreceptive organs, while it might function as chemosensor using its direct binding ability to agonist all-trans-retinal in non-photoreceptive organs such as the adrenal gland of birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Chickens
  • Light
  • Opsins / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / chemistry
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology*
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Opsins