The biophysical and molecular mechanisms that enable animals to detect magnetic fields are unknown. It has been proposed that birds have a light-dependent magnetic compass that relies on the formation of radical pairs within cryptochrome molecules. Using spectroscopic methods, we show that pigeon cryptochrome clCRY4 is photoreduced efficiently and forms long-lived spin-correlated radical pairs via a tetrad of tryptophan residues. We report that clCRY4 is broadly and stably expressed within the retina but enriched at synapses in the outer plexiform layer in a repetitive manner. A proteomic survey for retinal-specific clCRY4 interactors identified molecules that are involved in receptor signaling, including glutamate receptor-interacting protein 2, which colocalizes with clCRY4. Our data support a model whereby clCRY4 acts as an ultraviolet-blue photoreceptor and/or a light-dependent magnetosensor by modulating glutamatergic synapses between horizontal cells and cones.
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