Chlorophyll-derivative modulation of rhodopsin signaling properties through evolutionarily conserved interaction pathways

Kristina N. Woods, Jürgen Pfeffer, Judith Klein-Seetharaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Retinal is the light-absorbing chromophore that is responsible for the activation of visual pigments and light-driven ion pumps. Evolutionary changes in the intermolecular interactions of the retinal with specific amino acids allow for adaptation of the spectral characteristics, referred to as spectral tuning. However, it has been proposed that a specific species of dragon fish has bypassed the adaptive evolutionary process of spectral tuning and replaced it with a single evolutionary event: photosensitization of rhodopsin by chlorophyll derivatives. Here, by using a combination of experimental measurements and computational modeling to probe retinal-receptor interactions in rhodopsin, we show how the binding of the chlorophyll derivative, chlorin-e6 (Ce6) in the intracellular domain (ICD) of the receptor allosterically excites G-protein coupled receptor class A (GPCR-A) conserved long-range correlated fluctuations that connect distant parts of the receptor. These long-range correlated motions are associated with regulating the dynamics and intermolecular interactions of specific amino acids in the retinal ligand-binding pocket that have been associated with shifts in the absorbance peak maximum (λmax) and hence, spectral sensitivity of the visual system. Moreover, the binding of Ce6 affects the overall global properties of the receptor. Specifically, we find that Ce6-induced dynamics alter the thermal stability of rhodopsin by adjusting hydrogen-bonding interactions near the receptor active-site that consequently also influences the intrinsic conformational equilibrium of the receptor. Due to the conservation of the ICD residues amongst different receptors in this class and the fact that all GPCR-A receptors share a common mechanism of activation, it is possible that the allosteric associations excited in rhodopsin with Ce6 binding are a common feature in all class A GPCRs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number85
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Biosciences
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - Dec 12 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Chlorine Compounds
  • Protein allostery
  • Protein dynamics
  • Small-molecule allosteric agonist
  • Terahertz spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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