Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2012


Two types of microvillar photoreceptors in the neural tube of amphioxus, an early chordate, sense light via melanopsin, the same photopigment as in “circadian” light detectors of higher vertebrates. Because in amphioxus melanopsin activates a Gq/phospholipase C cascade, like phototransduction in arthropods and mollusks, possible commonalities in the photoconductance were investigated. Unlike other microvillar photoreceptors, reversal of the photocurrent can only be attained upon replacement of extracellular Na+. In addition to Na+, Ca2+ is also permeant, as indicated by the fact that (a) in normal ionic conditions the photocurrent remains inward at Vm > ENa; (b) in Na-free solution a small residual inward photocurrent persists at Vm near resting level, provided that Ca is present; and (c) Vrev exhibits a modest shift with [Ca]o manipulations. The unusual reversal is accounted for by an uncommonly low permeability of the light-dependent channels to K+, as [K]o only marginally affects the photocurrent amplitude and its reversal. Lanthanum and ruthenium red (RuR), two TRP channel antagonists, reversibly suppress the response to photostimulation of moderate intensity; therefore, the melanopsin-initiated cascade may recruit ion channels of the same family as those of rhabdomeric photoreceptors. With brighter lights, blockage declines, so that both La3+ and RuR induce a right shift in the sensitivity curve without a reduction of its asymptote. Nonetheless, an effect on the transduction cascade, rather than the channels, was ruled out on the basis of the voltage dependency of the blockade and the lack of effects of intracellular application of the same substances. The mechanisms of action of these antagonists thus entail a state-dependent blockade, with a higher affinity for the channel in the closed conformation. Collectively, the results indicate a kinship of the light-sensitive channels of amphioxus with those of invertebrate rhabdomeric visual cells and support the representation of this lineage of photoreceptors among chordates.


This work was originally published in The Journal of General Physiology, available at doi:10.1085/jgp.201110717.



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