Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) are directly light-gated ion channels that function as sensory photoreceptors in flagellated green algae, allowing these algae to identify optimal light conditions for growth. In neuroscience, ChRs constitute the most versatile tools for the light-induced activation of selected cells or cell types with unprecedented precision in time and space. In recent years, many ChR variants have been discovered or engineered, and countless electrical and spectroscopic studies of these ChRs have been carried out, both in host cells and on purified recombinant proteins. With significant support from a high-resolution 3D structure and from molecular dynamics calculations, scientists are now able to develop models that conclusively explain ChR activation and ion conductance on the basis of chromophore isomerization, structural changes, proton transfer reactions, and water rearrangement on timescales ranging from femtoseconds to minutes.
Keywords: channelrhodopsin-activation model; color-tuning; ion selectivity; photocycle; voltage dependence.