Airway smooth muscle photorelaxation via opsin receptor activation

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2019 Jan 1;316(1):L82-L93. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00135.2018. Epub 2018 Oct 4.


Nonvisual opsin (OPN) receptors have recently been implicated in blue light-mediated photorelaxation of smooth muscle in various organs. Since photorelaxation has not yet been demonstrated in airway smooth muscle (ASM) or in human tissues, we questioned whether functional OPN receptors are expressed in mouse and human ASM. mRNA, encoding the OPN 3 receptor, was detected in both human and mouse ASM. To demonstrate the functionality of the OPN receptors, we performed wire myography of ex vivo ASM from mouse and human upper airways. Blue light-mediated relaxation of ACh-preconstricted airways was intensity and wavelength dependent (maximum relaxation at 430-nm blue light) and was inhibited by blockade of the large-conductance calcium-activated potassium channels with iberiotoxin. We further implicated OPN receptors as key mediators in functional photorelaxation by demonstrating increased relaxation in the presence of a G protein receptor kinase 2 inhibitor or an OPN chromophore (9- cis retinal). We corroborated these responses in peripheral airways of murine precision-cut lung slices. This is the first demonstration of photorelaxation in ASM via an OPN receptor-mediated pathway.

Keywords: G protein receptor kinase 2; airway smooth muscle; blue light; opsin; relaxation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Mice
  • Muscle Relaxation*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / cytology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism*
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trachea / cytology
  • Trachea / metabolism*


  • OPN3 protein, human
  • OPN3 protein, mouse
  • Rod Opsins