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Physiol Rev. 2001 Oct;81(4):1659-88.

Rhodopsin: structural basis of molecular physiology.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York 10021, USA.


The crystal structure of rod cell visual pigment rhodopsin was recently solved at 2.8-A resolution. A critical evaluation of a decade of structure-function studies is now possible. It is also possible to begin to explain the structural basis for several unique physiological properties of the vertebrate visual system, including extremely low dark noise levels as well as high gain and color detection. The ligand-binding pocket of rhodopsin is remarkably compact, and several apparent chromophore-protein interactions were not predicted from extensive mutagenesis or spectroscopic studies. The transmembrane helices are interrupted or kinked at multiple sites. An extensive network of interhelical interactions stabilizes the ground state of the receptor. The helix movement model of receptor activation, which might apply to all G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) of the rhodopsin family, is supported by several structural elements that suggest how light-induced conformational changes in the ligand-binding pocket are transmitted to the cytoplasmic surface. The cytoplasmic domain of the receptor is remarkable for a carboxy-terminal helical domain extending from the seventh transmembrane segment parallel to the bilayer surface. Thus the cytoplasmic surface appears to be approximately the right size to bind to the transducin heterotrimer in a one-to-one complex. Future high-resolution structural studies of rhodopsin and other GPCRs will form a basis to elucidate the detailed molecular mechanism of GPCR-mediated signal transduction.

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