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Curr Biol. 2005 Jun 7;15(11):1065-9.

Cephalochordate melanopsin: evolutionary linkage between invertebrate visual cells and vertebrate photosensitive retinal ganglion cells.

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Department of Biophysics, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan.


Animal photoreceptor cells can be classified into two distinct types, depending on whether the photopigment is borne on the membrane of a modified cilium (ciliary type) or apical microvilli (rhabdomeric type) [1]. Ciliary photoreceptors are well known as vertebrate rods and cones and are also found in several invertebrates. The rhabdomeric photoreceptor, in contrast, is a predominant type of invertebrate visual cell, but morphologically identifiable rhabdomeric photoreceptors have never been found in vertebrates. It is hypothesized that the rhabdomeric photoreceptor cell had evolved to be the photosensitive retinal ganglion cell for the vertebrate circadian photoentrainment [2, 3 and 4] owing to the fact that some molecules involved in cell differentiation are common among them [5]. We focused on the cephalochordate amphioxus because it is the closest living invertebrate to the vertebrates, and interestingly, it has rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells for putative nonvisual functions [6]. Here, we show that the amphioxus homolog of melanopsin [7, 8 and 9], the circadian photopigment in the photosensitive retinal ganglion cells of vertebrates, is expressed in the rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells of the amphioxus and that its biochemical and photochemical properties, not just its primary structure, are considerably similar to those of the visual rhodopsins in the rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells of higher invertebrates. The cephalochordate rhabdomeric photoreceptor represents an evolutionary link between the invertebrate visual photoreceptor and the vertebrate circadian photoreceptor.

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