Speed, sensitivity, and stability of the light response in rod and cone photoreceptors: facts and models

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2012 Sep;31(5):442-66. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2012.05.002. Epub 2012 May 29.


The light responses of rod and cone photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina are quantitatively different, yet extremely stable and reproducible because of the extraordinary regulation of the cascade of enzymatic reactions that link photon absorption and visual pigment excitation to the gating of cGMP-gated ion channels in the outer segment plasma membrane. While the molecular scheme of the phototransduction pathway is essentially the same in rods and cones, the enzymes and protein regulators that constitute the pathway are distinct. These enzymes and regulators can differ in the quantitative features of their functions or in concentration if their functions are similar or both can be true. The molecular identity and distinct function of the molecules of the transduction cascade in rods and cones are summarized. The functional significance of these molecular differences is examined with a mathematical model of the signal-transducing enzymatic cascade. Constrained by available electrophysiological, biochemical and biophysical data, the model simulates photocurrents that match well the electrical photoresponses measured in both rods and cones. Using simulation computed with the mathematical model, the time course of light-dependent changes in enzymatic activities and second messenger concentrations in non-mammalian rods and cones are compared side by side.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Ocular / physiology
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Guanylate Cyclase-Activating Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Models, Animal
  • Models, Biological
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / radiation effects*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / radiation effects*
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Guanylate Cyclase-Activating Proteins
  • Ion Channels
  • Calcium