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Biochemistry. 2012 Jun 5;51(22):4499-506. Epub 2012 May 22.

Enhancement of the long-wavelength sensitivity of optogenetic microbial rhodopsins by 3,4-dehydroretinal.

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Center for Membrane Biology, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical School, Houston, Texas 77030, United States.


Electrogenic microbial rhodopsins (ion pumps and channelrhodopsins) are widely used to control the activity of neurons and other cells by light (optogenetics). Long-wavelength absorption by optogenetic tools is desirable for increasing the penetration depth of the stimulus light by minimizing tissue scattering and absorption by hemoglobin. A2 retinal (3,4-dehydroretinal) is a natural retinoid that serves as the chromophore in red-shifted visual pigments of several lower aquatic animals. Here we show that A2 retinal reconstitutes a fully functional archaerhodopsin-3 (AR-3) proton pump and four channelrhodopsin variants (CrChR1, CrChR2, CaChR1, and MvChR1). Substitution of A1 with A2 retinal significantly shifted the spectral sensitivity of all tested rhodopsins to longer wavelengths without altering other aspects of their function. The spectral shift upon substitution of A1 with A2 in AR-3 was close to that measured in other archaeal rhodopsins. Notably, the shifts in channelrhodopsins were larger than those measured in archaeal rhodopsins and close to those in animal visual pigments with similar absorption maxima of their A1-bound forms. Our results show that chromophore substitution provides a complementary strategy for improving the efficiency of optogenetic tools.

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