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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 May;29(5):1461-9. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr313. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

Evolution of the genetic machinery of the visual cycle: a novelty of the vertebrate eye?

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Departament de Genètica, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


The discovery in invertebrates of ciliary photoreceptor cells and ciliary (c)-opsins established that at least two of the three elements that characterize the vertebrate photoreceptor system were already present before vertebrate evolution. However, the origin of the third element, a series of biochemical reactions known as the "retinoid cycle," remained uncertain. To understand the evolution of the retinoid cycle, I have searched for the genetic machinery of the cycle in invertebrate genomes, with special emphasis on the cephalochordate amphioxus. Amphioxus is closely related to vertebrates, has a fairly prototypical genome, and possesses ciliary photoreceptor cells and c-opsins. Phylogenetic and structural analyses of the amphioxus sequences related with the vertebrate machinery do not support a function of amphioxus proteins in chromophore regeneration but suggest that the genetic machinery of the retinoid cycle arose in vertebrates due to duplications of ancestral nonvisual genes. These results favor the hypothesis that the retinoid cycle machinery was a functional innovation of the primitive vertebrate eye.

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