Cyclic GMP cascade of vision

Annu Rev Neurosci. 1986;9:87-119. doi: 10.1146/


Cyclic GMP is central to visual excitation in vertebrate retinal rod cells. Sodium channels in the plasma membrane of the outer segment are kept open in the dark by a high level of cGMP. Light closes these channels by activating an enzymatic cascade that leads to the rapid hydrolysis of cGMP. Photoexcited rhodopsin triggers transducin by catalyzing the exchange of GTP for bound GDP. The activated GTP-form of transducin then switches on the phosphodiesterase by overcoming an inhibitory constraint. The overall gain of this cascade is about 10(5). The cascade is turned off by the GTPase activity of transducin and by the action of rhodopsin kinase and arrestin. One of the challenges now is to delineate the interplay of cGMP, calcium ion, and phosphoinositides in excitation and adaptation. Transducin belongs to a family of signal-coupling proteins that includes the G proteins of the hormone-regulated adenylate cyclase cascade. The initial events in visual excitation in molluscs and arthropods are probably similar to those of vertebrates. The triggering of transducin by photoexcited rhodopsin is a recurring motif in visual transduction. The coming together of electrophysiology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics affords new opportunities in unraveling the molecular mechanism of visual transduction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Cattle
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cyclic GMP / physiology*
  • Cytosol / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Eye Proteins*
  • G-Protein-Coupled Receptor Kinase 1
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Models, Neurological
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Retina / physiology
  • Rhodopsin / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology


  • Eye Proteins
  • Ion Channels
  • Rhodopsin
  • Protein Kinases
  • G-Protein-Coupled Receptor Kinase 1
  • GRK1 protein, human
  • Grk1 protein, rat
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases
  • Cyclic GMP
  • Calcium