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In search of the visual pigment template



Absorbance spectra were recorded by microspectrophotometry from 39 different rod and cone types representing amphibians, reptiles, and fishes, with A1- or A2-based visual pigments and λmax ranging from 357 to 620 nm. The purpose was to investigate accuracy limits of putative universal templates for visual pigment absorbance spectra, and if possible to amend the templates to overcome the limitations. It was found that (1) the absorbance spectrum of frog rhodopsin extract very precisely parallels that of rod outer segments from the same individual, with only a slight hypsochromic shift in λmax, hence templates based on extracts are valid for absorbance in situ; (2) a template based on the bovine rhodopsin extract data of Partridge and De Grip (1991) describes the absorbance of amphibian rod outer segments excellently, contrary to recent electrophysiological results; (3) the λmax/λ invariance of spectral shape fails for A1 pigments with small λmax and for A2 pigments with large λmax, but the deviations are systematic and can be readily incorporated into, for example, the Lamb (1995) template. We thus propose modified templates for the main “α-band” of A1 and A2 pigments and show that these describe both absorbance and spectral sensitivities of photoreceptors over the whole range of λmax. Subtraction of the α-band from the full absorbance spectrum leaves a “β-band” described by a λmax-dependent Gaussian. We conclude that the idea of universal templates (one for A1- and one for A2-based visual pigments) remains valid and useful at the present level of accuracy of data on photoreceptor absorbance and sensitivity. The sum of our expressions for the α- and β-band gives a good description for visual pigment spectra with λmax > 350 nm.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Victor I. Govardovskii, Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Thorez Prospect 44, 194223 St. Petersburg, Russia. E-mail:



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