PROSITE documentation PDOC00211
Visual pigments (opsins) retinal binding site


Visual pigments [1,2] are the light-absorbing molecules that mediate vision. They consist of an apoprotein, opsin, covalently linked to the chromophore cis-retinal. Vision is effected through the absorption of a photon by cis-retinal which is isomerized to trans-retinal. This isomerization leads to a change of conformation of the protein. Opsins are integral membrane proteins with seven transmembrane regions that belong to family 1 of G-protein coupled receptors (see <PDOC00210>).

In vertebrates four different pigments are generally found. Rod cells, which mediate vision in dim light, contain the pigment rhodopsin. Cone cells, which function in bright light, are responsible for color vision and contain three or more color pigments (for example, in mammals: red, blue and green).

In Drosophila, the eye is composed of 800 facets or ommatidia. Each ommatidium contains eight photoreceptor cells (R1-R8): the R1 to R6 cells are outer cells, R7 and R8 inner cells. Each of the three types of cells (R1-R6, R7 and R8) expresses a specific opsin.

Proteins evolutionary related to opsins include:

  • Squid retinochrome, also known as retinal photoisomerase, which converts various isomers of retinal into 11-cis retinal.
  • Mammalian opsin 3 (Encephalopsin) that may play a role in encephalic photoreception.
  • Mammalian opsin 4 (Melanopsin) that may mediate regulation of circadian rhythms and acute suppression of pineal melatonin.
  • Mammalian retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) RGR [3], a protein that may also act in retinal isomerization.

The attachment site for retinal in the above proteins is a conserved lysine residue in the middle of the seventh transmembrane helix. The pattern we developed includes this residue.

Last update:

December 2004 / Pattern and text revised.


Technical section

PROSITE method (with tools and information) covered by this documentation:

OPSIN, PS00238; Visual pigments (opsins) retinal binding site  (PATTERN)


1AuthorsApplebury M.L. Hargrave P.A.
TitleMolecular biology of the visual pigments.
SourceVision Res. 26:1881-1895(1986).
PubMed ID3303660

2AuthorsFryxell K.J. Meyerowitz E.M.
TitleThe evolution of rhodopsins and neurotransmitter receptors.
SourceJ. Mol. Evol. 33:367-378(1991).
PubMed ID1663559

3AuthorsShen D. Jiang M. Hao W. Tao L. Salazar M. Fong H.K.W.
TitleA human opsin-related gene that encodes a retinaldehyde-binding protein.
SourceBiochemistry 33:13117-13125(1994).
PubMed ID7947717

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