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Mol Vis. 2009 Aug 28;15:1717-29.

Lateral diffusion of rhodopsin in photoreceptor membrane: a reappraisal.

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Institute for Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia.



In a series of works between 1972 and 1984, it was established that rhodopsin undergoes rotational and lateral Brownian motion in the plane of photoreceptor membrane. The concept of free movement of proteins of phototransduction cascade is an essential principle of the present scheme of vertebrate phototransduction. This has recently been challenged by findings that show that in certain conditions rhodopsin in the membrane may be dimeric and form extended areas of paracrystalline organization. Such organization seems incompatible with earlier data on free rhodopsin diffusion. Thus we decided to reinvestigate lateral diffusion of rhodopsin and products of its photolysis in photoreceptor membrane specifically looking for indications of possible oligomeric organization.


Diffusion exchange by rhodopsin and its photoproducts between bleached and unbleached halves of rod outer segment was traced using high-speed dichroic microspectrophotometer. Measurements were conducted on amphibian (frog, toad, and salamander) and gecko rods.


We found that the curves that are supposed to reflect the process of diffusion equilibration of rhodopsin in nonuniformly bleached outer segment largely show production of long-lived bleaching intermediate, metarhodopsin III (Meta III). After experimental elimination of Meta III contribution, we observed rhodopsin equilibration time constant was threefold to tenfold longer than estimated previously. However, after proper correction for the geometry of rod discs, it translates into generally accepted value of diffusion constant of approximately 5 x 10(-9) cm(2) s(-1). Yet, we found that there exists an immobile rhodopsin fraction whose size can vary from virtually zero to 100%, depending on poorly defined factors. Controls suggest that the formation of the immobile fraction is not due to fragmentation of rod outer segment discs but supposedly reflects oligomerization of rhodopsin.


Implications of the new findings for the present model of phototransduction are discussed. We hypothesize that formation of paracrystalline areas, if controlled physiologically, could be an extra mechanism of cascade regulation.

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