Researchers have found that the melanopsin pigment in the eye is potentially more sensitive to light than its more famous counterpart, rhodopsin, the pigment that allows for night vision.
Superposition of computer models of human melanopsin (violet) and squid rhodopsin (green). Similar to visual pigments, melanopsin provides the interface between the physical world, responsible for light detection, and the physiological world of brain signaling. Melanopsin mediates a process termed 'photoentrainment,' which takes in light to set the clock of “circadian rhythms.” These rhythms (often termed the body clock) represent the biological implementation of the 24-hour day/night and optimize the corresponding physiology
For more than two years, the staff of the Laboratory for Computational Photochemistry and Photobiology (LCPP) at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University (BGSU), have been investigating melanopsin, a retina pigment capable of sensing light changes in the environment, informing the nervous system and synchronizing it with the day/night rhythm. Most of the study’s complex computations were carried out on powerful supercomputer clusters at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC).
The research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, in an article edited by Arieh Warshel, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California. Warshel and two other chemists received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing multiscale models for complex chemical systems, the same techniques that were used in conducting the BGSU study, “Comparison of the isomerization mechanisms of human melanopsin and invertebrate and vertebrate rhodopsins.”
“The retina of vertebrate eyes, including those of humans, is the most powerful light detector that we know,” explains Massimo Olivucci, Ph.D., a research professor of Chemistry and director of LCPP in the Center for Photochemical Sciences at BGSU. “In the human eye, light coming through the lens is projected onto the retina where it forms an image on a mosaic of photoreceptor cells that transmits information from the surrounding environment to the brain’s visual cortex. In extremely poor illumination conditions, such as those of a star-studded night or ocean depths, the retina is able to perceivMassimo Olivucci, Ph.D.e intensities corresponding to only a few photons, which are indivisible units of light. Such extreme sensitivity is due to specialized photoreceptor cells containing a light sensitive pigment called rhodopsin.”
For a long time, it was assumed that the human retina contained only photoreceptor cells specialized in dim-light and daylight vision, according to Olivucci. However, recent studies revealed the existence of a small number of intrinsically photosensitive nervous cells that regulate non-visual light responses. These cells contain a rhodopsin-like protein named melanopsin, which plays a role in the regulation of unconscious visual reflexes and in the synchronization of the body’s responses to the dawn/dusk cycle, known as circadian rhythms or the “body clock,” through a process known as photoentrainment.
The fact that the melanopsin density in the vertebrate retina is 10,000 times lower than that of rhodopsin density, and that, with respect to the visual photoreceptors, the melanopsin-containing cells capture a million-fold fewer photons, suggests that melanopsin may be more sensitive than rhodopsin. The comprehension of the mechanism that makes this extreme light sensitivity possible appears to be a prerequisite to the development of new technologies.
Both rhodopsin and melanopsin are proteins containing a derivative of vitamin A, which serves as an “antenna” for photon detection. When a photon is detected, the proteins are set in an activated state, through a photochemical transformation, which ultimately results in a signal being sent to the brain. Thus, at the molecular level, visual sensitivity is the result of a trade-off between two factors: light activation and thermal noise. It is currently thought that light-activation efficiency (i.e., the number of activation events relative to the total number of detected photons) may be related to its underlying speed of chemical transformation. On the other hand, the thermal noise depends on the number of activation events triggered by ambient body heat in the absence of photon detection.
“Understanding the mechanism that determines this seemingly amazing light sensitivity of melanopsin may open up new pathways in studying the evolution of light receptors in vertebrate and, in turn, the molecular basis of diseases, such as “seasonal affecting disorders,” Olivucci said. “Moreover, it provides a model for developing sub-nanoscale sensors approaching the sensitivity of a single-photon.”
For this reason, the LCPP group – working together with Francesca Fanelli, Ph.D., of Italy’s Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia – has used the methodology developed by Warshel and his colleagues to construct computer models of human melanopsin, bovine rhodopsin and squid rhodopsin. The models were constructed by BGSU research assistant Samer Gozem, Ph.D., BGSU visiting graduate student Silvia Rinaldi, who now has completed his doctorate, and visiting research assistant Federico Melaccio, Ph.D. – both visiting from Italy’s Università di Siena. The models were used to study the activation of the pigments and show that melanopsin light activation is the fastest, and its thermal activation is the slowest, which was expected for maximum light sensitivity.
The computer models of human melanopsin, and bovine and squid rhodopsins, provide further support for a theory reported by the LCPP group in the September 2012 issue of Science Magazine which explained the correlation between thermal noise and perceived color, a concept first proposed by the British neuroscientist Horace Barlow in 1957. Barlow suggested the existence of a link between the color of light perceived by the sensor and its thermal noise and established that the minimum possible thermal noise is achieved when the absorbing light has a wavelength around 470 nanometers, which corresponds to blue light.
“This wavelength and corresponding bluish color matches the wavelength that has been observed and simulated in the LCPP lab,” said Olivucci. “In fact, our calculations also indicate that a shift from blue to even shorter wavelengths (i.e. indigo and violet) will lead to an inversion of the trend and an increase of thermal noise towards the higher levels seen for a red color. Therefore, melanopsin may have been selected by biological evolution to stand exactly at the border between two opposite trends to maximize light sensitivity.”
The melanopsin research project was funded jointly by the BGSU Center for Photochemical Sciences and the College of Arts & Sciences, and, together with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Human Frontier Science Program, helped create the LCPP.
The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), a member of the Ohio Technology Consortium of the Ohio Board of Regents, addresses the rising computational demands of academic and industrial research communities by providing a robust shared infrastructure and proven expertise in advanced modeling, simulation and analysis. OSC empowers scientists with the vital resources essential to make extraordinary discoveries and innovations, partners with businesses and industry to leverage computational science as a competitive force in the global knowledge economy, and leads efforts to equip the workforce with the key technology skills required to secure 21st century jobs.
Jamie Abel | EurekAlert!
Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News
16.01.2017 | Automotive Engineering
16.01.2017 | Life Sciences