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Vision Res. 1986;26(12):1881-95.

Molecular biology of the visual pigments.


With the identification and structural characterization of several visual pigments has come a new era of investigation. The above comparisons of amino acids sequences predict specific functional domains that may be tested to tell us how visual pigments function to absorb light and transform this "signal" to trigger a neural response. The details of how rod and cone pigments differ are now known for human pigments. The striking similarities between vertebrate and invertebrate pigments are remarkable for pigments that have been subject to divergence for over 500 million years. There are yet challenges ahead of us. The true tertiary structure of visual pigments must be obtained from a 3-dimensional crystal structure. The predictions for functional domains of interaction with the GTP binding protein must be confirmed or redefined. A rigorous definition of the chromophore environment and the properties that control the wavelength of absorption of 11-cis retinal chromophore are certainly still on the drawing boards. Specific genetic alteration through in vitro mutagenesis promises much insight, but the technology for expressing these membrane proteins in functional form has yet to be achieved. We may expect, however, these problems will be addressed and in the next few years facts should replace what are now speculations. Finally, it is a delightful observation that nature has capitalized on a general biochemical mechanism for control of second messengers in the cytoplasm of cells. Protein structural data deduced from genetic information now document the hypothesis that the structure and function of receptors for the catecholamines and that of visual pigments are similar. The receptors for serotonin, leukotrienes, prostaglandins, histamine and acetylcholine (muscarinic) are expected to belong to this same family. The lessons learned about visual pigments can be applied broadly to a general set of membrane receptors.

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