Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 197, Issue 3, pp 227-241

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Metarhodopsin control by arrestin, light-filtering screening pigments, and visual pigment turnover in invertebrate microvillar photoreceptors

  • Doekele G. StavengaAffiliated withDepartment of Neurobiophysics, University of Groningen Email author 
  • , Roger C. HardieAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge


The visual pigments of most invertebrate photoreceptors have two thermostable photo-interconvertible states, the ground state rhodopsin and photo-activated metarhodopsin, which triggers the phototransduction cascade until it binds arrestin. The ratio of the two states in photoequilibrium is determined by their absorbance spectra and the effective spectral distribution of illumination. Calculations indicate that metarhodopsin levels in fly photoreceptors are maintained below ~35% in normal diurnal environments, due to the combination of a blue-green rhodopsin, an orange-absorbing metarhodopsin and red transparent screening pigments. Slow metarhodopsin degradation and rhodopsin regeneration processes further subserve visual pigment maintenance. In most insect eyes, where the majority of photoreceptors have green-absorbing rhodopsins and blue-absorbing metarhodopsins, natural illuminants are predicted to create metarhodopsin levels greater than 60% at high intensities. However, fast metarhodopsin decay and rhodopsin regeneration also play an important role in controlling metarhodopsin in green receptors, resulting in a high rhodopsin content at low light intensities and a reduced overall visual pigment content in bright light. A simple model for the visual pigment–arrestin cycle is used to illustrate the dependence of the visual pigment population states on light intensity, arrestin levels and pigment turnover.


Natural light Light sensitivity Pupil mechanism Drosophila PDA