Visual ecology and voltage-gated ion channels in insect photoreceptors

Trends Neurosci. 1995 Jan;18(1):17-21. doi: 10.1016/0166-2236(95)93945-t.


That particular membrane conductances are selected for expression to enable the efficient coding of biologically relevant signals is illustrated by recent work on insect photoreceptors. These studies exploit the richness of insect vision and the accessibility of insect photoreceptors to cellular analysis in both intact animal and isolated cell preparations. The distribution of voltage-gated conductances among photoreceptors of different species correlates with visual ecology. Delayed-rectifier K+ channels are found in the rapidly responding photoreceptors of fast-flying flies. The conductance's activation range and dynamics match light-induced signals, and enable a rapid response by reducing the membrane time constant. Slow-moving flies have slowly responding photoreceptors that lack the delayed rectifier, but express an inactivating K+ conductance that is metabolically less demanding. Complementing these findings, locust photoreceptor membranes are modulated diurnally. The delayed rectifier is exhibited during the day and the inactivating K+ current is exhibited at night. Insect photoreceptors also demonstrate the amplification of signals by voltage-gated Na+ channels. In drone-bee photoreceptors, voltage-gated Na+ channels combine with K+ channels to enhance the small transient signals produced by the image of a queen bee passing over the retina. This subthreshold amplifier operates most effectively over the range of light intensities at which drones pursue queens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology*
  • Physiology, Comparative
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Ion Channels