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Plant Physiol. 2009 Sep;151(1):347-66. doi: 10.1104/pp.109.143297. Epub 2009 Jul 29.

Channelrhodopsins of Volvox carteri are photochromic proteins that are specifically expressed in somatic cells under control of light, temperature, and the sex inducer.

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Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology of Plants, University of Bielefeld, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany.


Channelrhodopsins are light-gated ion channels involved in the photoresponses of microalgae. Here, we describe the characterization of two channelrhodopsins, Volvox channelrhodopsin-1 (VChR1) and VChR2, from the multicellular green alga Volvox carteri. Both are encoded by nuclear single copy genes and are highly expressed in the small biflagellated somatic cells but not in the asexual reproductive cells (gonidia). Expression of both VChRs increases after cell cleavage and peaks after completion of embryogenesis, when the biosynthesis of the extracellular matrix begins. Likewise, expression of both transcripts increases after addition of the sex-inducer protein, but VChR2 is induced much more than VChR1. The expression of VChR1 is specifically promoted by extended dark periods, and heat stress reduces predominantly VChR1 expression. Expression of both VChRs increased under low light conditions, whereas cold stress and wounding reduced expression. Both VChRs were spectroscopically studied in their purified recombinant forms. VChR2 is similar to the ChR2 counterpart from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii with respect to its absorption maximum (460 nm) and photocycle dynamics. In contrast, VChR1 absorbs maximally at 540 nm at low pH (D540), shifting to 500 nm at high pH (D500). Flash photolysis experiments showed that after light excitation, the D540 dark state bleaches and at least two photoproducts, P600 and P500, are sequentially populated during the photocycle. We hypothesize that VChR2 is a general photoreceptor that is responsible for the avoidance of blue light and might play a key role in sexual development, whereas VChR1 is the main phototaxis photoreceptor under vegetative conditions, as it is more specifically adapted to environmental conditions and the developmental stages of Volvox.

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