Apo-Opsin and Its Dark Constitutive Activity across Retinal Cone Subtypes

Curr Biol. 2020 Dec 21;30(24):4921-4931.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.09.062. Epub 2020 Oct 15.


Retinal rod and cone photoreceptors mediate vision in dim and bright light, respectively, by transducing absorbed photons into neural electrical signals. Their phototransduction mechanisms are essentially identical. However, one difference is that, whereas a rod visual pigment remains stable in darkness, a cone pigment has some tendency to dissociate spontaneously into apo-opsin and retinal (the chromophore) without isomerization. This cone-pigment property is long known but has mostly been overlooked. Importantly, because apo-opsin has weak constitutive activity, it triggers transduction to produce electrical noise even in darkness. Currently, the precise dark apo-opsin contents across cone subtypes are mostly unknown, as are their dark activities. We report here a study of goldfish red (L), green (M), and blue (S) cones, finding with microspectrophotometry widely different apo-opsin percentages in darkness, being ∼30% in L cones, ∼3% in M cones, and negligible in S cones. L and M cones also had higher dark apo-opsin noise than holo-pigment thermal isomerization activity. As such, given the most likely low signal amplification at the pigment-to-transducin/phosphodiesterase phototransduction step, especially in L cones, apo-opsin noise may not be easily distinguishable from light responses and thus may affect cone vision near threshold.

Keywords: cone photodetection threshold; cone phototransduction; constitutive apo-opsin activity; dark noise; truncated-cone recording.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Darkness*
  • Goldfish
  • Light Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Models, Animal
  • Opsins / metabolism*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / radiation effects
  • Single-Cell Analysis


  • Opsins