Vertebrate rod photoreceptors are the ultimate light sensors, as they can detect a single photon. In darkness, rods maintain a high concentration of the intracellular messenger cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which binds to and keeps open cationic channels on the plasma membrane of the outer segment. Absorption of a photon by the visual pigment of the rod, rhodopsin, initiates a biochemical amplification cascade that leads to a reduction in the concentration of cGMP and closure of the channels, thereby converting the incoming light to an electrical signal. Because the absorption of a photon and the ensuing reactions are localized events, the magnitude of the response of the rod to a single photon depends on the spread of the decrease in the cGMP concentration along the length of the outer segment. The longitudinal diffusion of cGMP depends on the structural parameters of the rod outer segment, specifically the area and the volume available for diffusion. To characterize the effect of rod outer segment cytoarchitecture on diffusion, we have used fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) and examined the mobility of a fluorescent polar tracer, calcein, in the rod outer segments from three species with different outer segment structures: frog (Rana pipiens), mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) and gecko (Gekko gekko). We found that the diffusion coefficient is similar for all three species, in the order of 8–17 μm2 s−1, in broad agreement with the predictions by Holcman and Korenbrot (Biophys. J. 2004:86;2566–2582) based on the known cytoarchitecture of rod outer segments. Consequently, the results also support their prediction that the longitudinal spread of light excitation in rods is similar across species.
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Vol. 82 • No. 6