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J Exp Biol. 2008 Dec;211(Pt 24):3879-88. doi: 10.1242/jeb.020289.

Ontogenetic changes in photoreceptor opsin gene expression in coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch, Walbaum).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


Pacific salmonids start life in fresh water then migrate to the sea, after a metamorphic event called smoltification, later returning to their natal freshwater streams to spawn and die. To accommodate changes in visual environments throughout life history, salmon may adjust their spectral sensitivity. We investigated this possibility by examining ontogenetic and thyroid hormone (TH)-induced changes in visual pigments in coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch, Walbaum). Using microspectrophotometry, we measured the spectral absorbance (quantified by lambda(max)) of rods, and middle and long wavelength-sensitive (MWS and LWS) cones in three age classes of coho, representing both freshwater and marine phases. The lambda(max) of MWS and LWS cones differed among freshwater (alevin and parr) and ocean (smolt) phases. The lambda(max) of rods, on the other hand, did not vary, which is evidence that vitamin A(1)/A(2) visual pigment chromophore ratios were similar among freshwater and ocean phases when sampled at the same time of year. Exogenous TH treatment long wavelength shifted the lambda(max) of rods, consistent with an increase in A(2). However, shifts in cones were greater than predicted for a change in chromophore ratio. Real-time quantitative RT-PCR demonstrated that at least two RH2 opsin subtypes were expressed in MWS cones, and these were differentially expressed among alevin, parr and TH-treated alevin groups. Combined with changes in A(1)/A(2) ratio, differential expression of opsin subtypes allows coho to alter the spectral absorbance of their MWS and LWS cones by as much as 60 and 90 nm, respectively. To our knowledge, this is the largest spectral shift reported in a vertebrate photoreceptor.

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