Rhodopsins at a glance

J Cell Sci. 2021 Nov 15;134(22):jcs258989. doi: 10.1242/jcs.258989. Epub 2021 Nov 25.


Rhodopsins are photoreceptive membrane proteins consisting of a common heptahelical transmembrane architecture that contains a retinal chromophore. Rhodopsin was first discovered in the animal retina in 1876, but a different type of rhodopsin, bacteriorhodopsin, was reported to be present in the cell membrane of an extreme halophilic archaeon, Halobacterium salinarum, 95 years later. Although these findings were made by physiological observation of pigmented tissue and cell bodies, recent progress in genomic and metagenomic analyses has revealed that there are more than 10,000 microbial rhodopsins and 9000 animal rhodopsins with large diversity and tremendous new functionality. In this Cell Science at a Glance article and accompanying poster, we provide an overview of the diversity of functions, structures, color discrimination mechanisms and optogenetic applications of these two rhodopsin families, and will also highlight the third distinctive rhodopsin family, heliorhodopsin.

Keywords: Animal rhodopsin; Microbial rhodopsin; Optogenetics; Photocycle; Retinal; Rhodopsin structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Genomics*
  • Rhodopsin* / genetics
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial* / genetics


  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • heliorhodopsin
  • Rhodopsin