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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 May 4;107(18):8428-33. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000640107. Epub 2010 Apr 19.

Palmitoylation stabilizes unliganded rod opsin.

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Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106-4965, USA.


S-palmitoylation is a conserved feature in many G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) involved in a broad array of signaling processes. The prototypical GPCR, rhodopsin, is S-palmitoylated on two adjacent C-terminal Cys residues at its cytoplasmic surface. Surprisingly, absence of palmitoylation has only a modest effect on in vitro or in vivo signaling. Here, we report that palmitoylation-deficient (Palm(-/-)) mice carrying two Cys to Thr and Ser mutations in the opsin gene displayed profound light-induced retinal degeneration that first involved rod and then cone cells. After brief bright light exposure, their retinas exhibited two types of deposits containing nucleic acid and invasive phagocytic macrophages. When Palm(-/-) mice were crossed with Lrat(-/-) mice lacking lecithin:retinol acyl transferase to eliminate retinoid binding to opsin and thereby rendering the eye insensitive to light, rapid retinal degeneration occurred even in 3- to 4-week-old animals. This rapid degeneration suggests that nonpalmitoylated rod opsin is unstable. Treatment of 2-week-old Palm(-/-)Lrat(-/-) mice with an artificial chromophore precursor prevented this retinopathy. In contrast, elimination of signaling to G protein in Palm(-/-)Gnat1(-/-) mice had no effect, indicating that instability of unpalmitoylated opsin lacking chromophore rather than aberrant signal transduction resulted in retinal pathology. Together, these observations provide evidence for a structural role of rhodopsin S-palmitoylation that may apply to other GPCRs as well.

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