The studies of visual signal transduction, or phototransduction, have played a pivotal role in elucidating the most general principles of G protein signaling, particularly in regards to the concept of signal amplification, i.e., the process by which activation of a relatively small number of G protein coupled receptors is transformed into a robust downstream signaling event. In this essay, we summarize our current quantitative understanding of this process in living rods of lower and higher vertebrate animals. An integration of biochemical experiments in vitro with electrophysiological recordings from intact rod photoreceptors indicates that the total number of G protein molecules activated in the course of a light response to a single photon is ~16 in the mouse and ~60 in the frog. This further translates into hydrolysis of ~2000 and ~72 000 molecules of cGMP downstream of G protein, respectively, which represents the total degree of biochemical amplification in the phototransduction cascade.
Keywords: ARF; GAPs (GTPase activating proteins); GEFs (guanine nucleotide exchange factors); GPCRs (G protein coupled receptors); GTPases/G proteins; RAB; RAS; effectors.