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Science 332 (6035): 1307-1312

Copyright © 2011 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Activation of Visual Pigments by Light and Heat

Dong-Gen Luo,1,3,* Wendy W. S. Yue,1,3,4 Petri Ala-Laurila,5,6 King-Wai Yau1,2,3,*

Abstract: Vision begins with photoisomerization of visual pigments. Thermal energy can complement photon energy to drive photoisomerization, but it also triggers spontaneous pigment activation as noise that interferes with light detection. For half a century, the mechanism underlying this dark noise has remained controversial. We report here a quantitative relation between a pigment’s photoactivation energy and its peak-absorption wavelength, {lambda}max. Using this relation and assuming that pigment activations by light and heat go through the same ground-state isomerization energy barrier, we can predict the relative noise of diverse pigments with multi–vibrational-mode thermal statistics. The agreement between predictions and our measurements strongly suggests that pigment noise arises from canonical isomerization. The predicted high noise for pigments with {lambda}max in the infrared presumably explains why they apparently do not exist in nature.

1 Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
2 Department of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
3 Center for Sensory Biology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
4 Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
5 Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
6 Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki FI-00014, Finland.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: dgluo{at} (D.-G.L.); kwyau{at} (K.-W.Y.)

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