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J Biol Chem. 2003 May 9;278(19):16982-91. Epub 2003 Jan 23.

Stability of dark state rhodopsin is mediated by a conserved ion pair in intradiscal loop E-2.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon 97201, USA.


The rhodopsin crystal structure reveals that intradiscal loop E-2 covers the 11-cis-retinal, creating a "retinal plug." Recently, we noticed the ends of loop E-2 are linked by an ion pair between residues Arg-177 and Asp-190, near the highly conserved disulfide bond. This ion pair appears biologically significant; it is conserved in almost all vertebrate opsins and may occur in other G-protein-coupled receptors. We report here that the Arg-177/Asp-190 ion pair is critical for the folding and stability of dark state rhodopsin. We find ion pair mutants that regenerate with retinal are functionally and spectrally wild-type-like yet thermally unstable in their dark state because of rapid hydrolysis of the retinal Schiff base linkage. Surprisingly, Arrhenius analysis indicates that the activation energies for the hydrolysis process are similar between the ion pair mutants and wild-type rhodopsin. Furthermore, the ion pair mutants do not show increased reactivity toward hydroxylamine, suggesting that their instability is not caused by an increased exposure to bulk solvent. Our results indicate that the loop E-2 ion pair is important for rhodopsin stability and thus suggest that retinitis pigmentosa observed in patients with Asp-190 mutations may in part be the result of thermally unstable rhodopsin proteins.

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