The retinal photoreceptors of the nocturnal Tokay gecko (Gekko gekko) consist exclusively of rods by the criteria of morphology and key features of their light responses. Unlike cones, they display robust photoresponses and have relatively slow recovery times. Nonetheless, the major and minor visual pigments identified in gecko rods are of the cone type by sequence and spectroscopic behavior. In the ongoing search for the molecular bases for the physiological differences between cones and rods, we have characterized the molecular biology and biochemistry of the gecko rod phototransduction cascade. We have cloned cDNAs encoding all or part of major protein components of the phototransduction cascade by RT-PCR with degenerate oligonucleotides designed to amplify cone- or rod-like sequences. For all proteins examined we obtained only cone-like and never rod-like sequences. The proteins identified include transducin α (Gαt), phosphodiesterase (PDE6) catalytic and inhibitory subunits, cyclic nucleotide-gated channel (CNGα) and arrestin. We also cloned cDNA encoding gecko RGS9-1 (Regulator of G Protein Signaling 9, splice variant 1), which is expressed in both rods and cones of all species studied but is typically found at 10-fold higher concentrations in cones, and found that gecko rods contain slightly lower RGS9-1 levels than mammalian rods. Furthermore, we found that the levels of GTPase accelerating protein (GAP) activity and cyclic GMP (cGMP) phosphodiesterase activity were similar in gecko and mammalian rods. These results place substantial constraints on the critical changes needed to convert a cone into a rod in the course of evolution: The many features of phototransduction molecules conserved between those expressed in gecko rods and those expressed in cones cannot explain the physiological differences, whereas the higher levels of RGS9-1 and GAP activity in cones are likely among the essential requirements for the rapid photoresponses of cones.
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Vol. 82 • No. 6