The vertebrate retina contains typical photoreceptor (PR) cones and rods responsible for day/night vision, respectively, and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) involved in the regulation of non-image-forming tasks. Rhodopsin/cone opsin photopigments in visual PRs or melanopsin (Opn4) in ipRGCs utilizes retinaldehyde as a chromophore. The retinoid regeneration process denominated as "visual cycle" involves the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) or Müller glial cells. Opn4, on the contrary, has been characterized as a bi/tristable photopigment, in which a photon of one wavelength isomerizes 11-cis to all-trans retinal (Ral), with a second photon re-isomerizing it back. However, it is unknown how the chromophore is further metabolized in the inner retina. Nor is it yet clear whether an alternative secondary cycle occurs involving players such as the retinal G-protein-coupled receptor (RGR), a putative photoisomerase of unidentified inner retinal activity. Here, we investigated the role of RGR in retinoid photoisomerization in Opn4x (Xenopus ortholog) (+) RGC primary cultures free of RPE and other cells from chicken embryonic retinas. Opn4x (+) RGCs display significant photic responses by calcium fluorescent imaging and photoisomerize exogenous all-trans to 11-cis Ral and other retinoids. RGR was found to be expressed in developing retina and in primary cultures; when its expression was knocked down, the levels of 11-cis, all-trans Ral, and all-trans retinol in cultures exposed to light were significantly higher and those in all-trans retinyl esters lower than in dark controls. The results support a novel role for RGR in ipRGCs to modulate retinaldehyde levels in light, keeping the balance of inner retinal retinoid pools.
Keywords: Inner retina; Melanopsin; Photoisomerization; Retinal G-protein-coupled receptor; Retinal ganglion cells; Retinoids; Visual cycle.