BETHESDA, Md., Feb. 28, 2011 Science fiction novelist and scholar Issac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny.' " This recently rang true for an international team of researchers when they observed something they did not expect.
In a Journal of Biological Chemistry "Paper of the Week," the Berlin-based team reports that it has uncovered surprising new details about a key protein-protein interaction in the retina that contributes to the exquisite sensitivity of vision. Additionally, they say, the proteins involved represent the best-studied model of how other senses and countless other physiological functions are controlled.
"Nearly a thousand different types of these proteins are present in the human body, and nearly half of pharmaceutical drugs are targeted to them," explains Martha E. Sommer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Medicinal Physics and Biophysics at Charit Medical School and the first author on the JBC paper.
The retina, which is located at the back of the eye, is considered an outgrowth of the brain and is, thus, a part of the central nervous system. Embedded in the retina's 150 million rod-shaped photoreceptor cells are purplish pigment molecules called rhodopsin. It is the rhodopsin protein that is activated by the first glimmer or photon of light. Upon activation, the purple molecule binds another protein, known as transducin, to set off a cascade of biochemical reactions that ultimately results in vision.
"After this signaling event, rhodopsin must be shut off. This task is achieved by a third molecule called arrestin, which binds to light-activated rhodopsin and blocks further signaling," Sommer says. When rhodopsin is not properly shut off, overactive signaling can lead to a decrease in sensitivity to light and ultimately cell death. People who lack arrestin have a form of night
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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology