Visual Neuroscience

In search of the visual pigment template

a1 Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, 194223 St. Petersburg, Russia
a2 Department of Biosciences, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
a3 Department of Ecology and Systematics, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland


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 [lambda]max 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 [lambda]max, 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 [lambda]max/[lambda] invariance of spectral shape fails for A1 pigments with small [lambda]max and for A2 pigments with large [lambda]max, 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 “[alpha]-band” of A1 and A2 pigments and show that these describe both absorbance and spectral sensitivities of photoreceptors over the whole range of [lambda]max. Subtraction of the [alpha]-band from the full absorbance spectrum leaves a “[beta]-band” described by a [lambda]max-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 [alpha]- and [beta]-band gives a good description for visual pigment spectra with [lambda]max > 350 nm.

(Received July 19 1999)
(Accepted February 2 2000)

Key Words: Retina; Photoreceptors; Rhodopsin; Absorbance; Spectral sensitivity.

c1 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:


1 Until September 2000 at: Howe Laboratories, Harvard Medical School, MEEI, 243 Charles St., Boston, MA 02114, USA. E-mail: