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Molecular evolution of proteins involved in vertebrate phototransduction.

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Department of Earth and Space Science, Graduate School of Science, Osaka University, Osaka Toyonaka 560-0043, Japan.


Vision is one of the most important senses for vertebrates. As a result, vertebrates have evolved a highly organized system of retinal photoreceptors. Light triggers an enzymatic cascade, called the phototransduction cascade, that leads to the hyperpolarization of photoreceptors. It is expected that a systematic comparison of phototransduction cascades of various vertebrates can provide insights into the diversity of vertebrate photoreceptors and into the evolution of vertebrate vision. However, only a few attempts have been made to compare each phototransduction protein participating in this cascade. Here, we determine phylogenetic trees of the vertebrate phototransduction proteins and compare them. It is demonstrated that vertebrate opsin sequences fall into five fundamental subfamilies. It is speculated that this is crucial for the diversity of the spectral sensitivity observed in vertebrate photoreceptors and provides the vertebrates with the molecular tools to discriminate the color of incident light. Other phototransduction proteins can be classified into only a few subfamilies. Cones generally share isoforms of phototransduction proteins that are different from those found in rods. The difference in sensitivity to light between rods and cones is likely due to the difference in the molecular properties of these isoforms. The phototransduction proteins seem to have co-evolved as a system. Switching the expression of these isoforms may characterize individual vertebrate photoreceptors.

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