Explicit spatiotemporal simulation of receptor-G protein coupling in rod cell disk membranes

Biophys J. 2014 Sep 2;107(5):1042-1053. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2014.05.050.


Dim-light vision is mediated by retinal rod cells. Rhodopsin (R), a G-protein-coupled receptor, switches to its active form (R(∗)) in response to absorbing a single photon and activates multiple copies of the G-protein transducin (G) that trigger further downstream reactions of the phototransduction cascade. The classical assumption is that R and G are uniformly distributed and freely diffusing on disk membranes. Recent experimental findings have challenged this view by showing specific R architectures, including RG precomplexes, nonuniform R density, specific R arrangements, and immobile fractions of R. Here, we derive a physical model that describes the first steps of the photoactivation cascade in spatiotemporal detail and single-molecule resolution. The model was implemented in the ReaDDy software for particle-based reaction-diffusion simulations. Detailed kinetic in vitro experiments are used to parametrize the reaction rates and diffusion constants of R and G. Particle diffusion and G activation are then studied under different conditions of R-R interaction. It is found that the classical free-diffusion model is consistent with the available kinetic data. The existence of precomplexes between inactive R and G is only consistent with the data if these precomplexes are weak, with much larger dissociation rates than suggested elsewhere. Microarchitectures of R, such as dimer racks, would effectively immobilize R but have little impact on the diffusivity of G and on the overall amplification of the cascade at the level of the G protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Diffusion
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / chemistry*
  • Rhodopsin / chemistry*
  • Software
  • Transducin / chemistry*
  • Video Recording


  • Rhodopsin
  • Transducin