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J Exp Biol. 2000 Jun;203(Pt 12):1925-36.

Vertebrate ancient (VA) opsin and extraretinal photoreception in the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).

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Department of Integrative and Molecular Neuroscience, Division of Neuroscience and Psychological Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK.


A member of a new photopigment family first isolated from teleost fish, vertebrate ancient (VA) opsin, has recently been shown to form a functional photopigment and to be expressed within a subset of horizontal and amacrine cells of the inner retina. These sites of expression (and structural features) of VA opsin suggest that this photopigment might mediate non-image-forming light-detection tasks. We attempted to gain support for this hypothesis by examining the expression of VA opsin within the central nervous system (CNS) (pineal and deep brain) of the Atlantic salmon Salmo salar. In addition, we examined the sites of rod-opsin, cone-opsin and &agr; -transducin expression within the salmon CNS to provide a more complete description of the extraretinal photoreceptors of a teleost vertebrate. We show that multiple populations of cells within the salmon CNS appear to contain photoreceptors: VA opsin was strongly expressed in the pineal organ and in bilateral columns of subependymal cells in the epithalamus; anti-cone-opsin antibodies labelled cells within the pineal and numerous cells in the anterior hypothalamus (suprachiasmatic nucleus, nucleus preopticus magnocellularis, nucleus preopticus parvocellularis); anti-rod-opsin antibodies labelled cells within the pineal but no other areas within the central brain; and anti- &agr; -transducin antibodies labelled cells within the pineal and the ventral telencephalon. Collectively, our results suggest that VA opsin is a photopigment specialised for irradiance detection tasks within the eye, pineal and central brain, and that the salmon has multiple and varied populations of photoreceptors within the CNS. We review the significance of these findings within the broad context of vertebrate extraretinal photoreception.

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