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J Biol Chem. 2000 Dec 8;275(49):38674-9.

A fully functional rod visual pigment in a blind mammal. A case for adaptive functional reorganization?

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry UMC-160, Institute of Cellular Signalling, University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Abstract

In the blind subterranean mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies complete ablation of the visual image-forming capability has been accompanied by an expansion of the bilateral projection from the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. We have cloned the open reading frame of a visual pigment from Spalax that shows >90% homology with mammalian rod pigments. Baculovirus expression yields a membrane protein with all functional characteristics of a rod visual pigment (lambda(max) = 497 +/- 2 nm; pK(a) of meta I/meta II equilibrium = 6.5; rapid activation of transducin in the light). We not only provide evidence that this Spalax rod pigment is fully functional in vitro but also show that all requirements for a functional pigment are present in vivo. The physiological consequences of this unexpected finding are discussed. One attractive option is that during adaptation to a subterranean lifestyle, the visual system of this mammal has undergone mosaic reorganization, and the visual pigments have adapted to a function in circadian photoreception.

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