Photoisomerization of 11-cis-retinal to all-trans-retinal and reduction to all-trans-retinol occur in photoreceptor outer segments whereas enzymatic esterification of all-trans-retinol, isomerization to 11-cis-retinol, and oxidation to 11-cis-retinal occur in adjacent cells. The processes are linked into a visual cycle by intercellular diffusion of retinoids. Knowledge of the mechanistic aspects of the visual cycle is very limited. In this study, we utilize chemical analysis of visual cycle retinoids to assess physiological roles for components inferred from in vitro experiments and to understand why excised mouse eyes fail to regenerate their bleached visual pigment. Flash illumination of excised mouse eyes or eyecups, in which regeneration of rhodopsin does not occur, produced a block in the visual cycle after all- trans-retinal formation; constant illumination of eyecups produced a block in the cycle after all-transretinol formation; and constant illumination of whole excised eyes resulted in a block of the cycle after formation of all- trans-retinyl ester. These blocks emphasize the role of cellular metabolism in the visual cycle. Interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP) has been postulated to play a role in intercellular retinoid transfer in the retina; however, the rates of recovery of 11-cis-retinal and of regeneration of rhodopsin in the dark in IRBP-/- mice were very similar to those found with wild-type (wt) mice. Thus, IRBP is necessary for photoreceptor survival but is not essential for a normal rate of visual pigment turnover. Arrestin forms a complex with activated rhodopsin, quenches its activity, and affects the release of all-trans-retinal in vitro. The rate of recovery of 11-cis- retinal in arrestin-/- mice was modestly delayed relative to wt, and the rate of rhodopsin recovery was ~80% of that observed with wt mice. Thus, the absence of arrestin appeared to have a minor effect on the kinetics of the visual cycle.
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