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Speed, adaptation, and stability of the response to light in cone photoreceptors: the functional role of Ca-dependent modulation of ligand sensitivity in cGMP-gated ion channels.


The response of cone photoreceptors to light is stable and reproducible because of the exceptional regulation of the cascade of enzymatic reactions that link visual pigment (VP) excitation to the gating of cyclic GMP (cGMP)-gated ion channels (cyclic nucleotide-gated [CNG]) in the outer segment plasma membrane. Regulation is achieved in part through negative feedback control of some of these reactions by cytoplasmic free Ca(2+). As part of the control process, Ca(2+) regulates the phosphorylation of excited VP, the activity of guanylate cyclase, and the ligand sensitivity of the CNG ion channels. We measured photocurrents elicited by stimuli in the form of flashes, steps, and flashes superimposed on steps in voltage-clamped single bass cones isolated from striped bass retina. We also developed a computational model that comprises all the known molecular events of cone phototransduction, including all Ca-dependent controls. Constrained by available experimental data in bass cones and cone transduction biochemistry, we achieved an excellent match between experimental photocurrents and those simulated by the model. We used the model to explore the physiological role of CNG ion channel modulation. Control of CNG channel activity by both cGMP and Ca(2+) causes the time course of the light-dependent currents to be faster than if only cGMP controlled their activity. Channel modulation also plays a critical role in the regulation of the light sensitivity and light adaptation of the cone photoresponse. In the absence of ion channel modulation, cone photocurrents would be unstable, oscillating during and at the offset of light stimuli.

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