Retinal counterion switch mechanism in vision evaluated by molecular simulations

Karina Martínez-Mayorga, Michael C. Pitman, Alan Grossfield, Scott E. Feller, Michael F. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Photoisomerization of the retinylidene chromophore of rhodopsin is the starting point in the vision cascade. A counterion switch mechanism that stabilizes the retinal protonated Schiff base (PSB) has been proposed to be an essential step in rhodopsin activation. On the basis of vibrational and UV-visible spectroscopy, two counterion switch models have emerged. In the first model, the PSB is stabilized by Glu181 in the meta I state, while in the most recent proposal, it is stabilized by Glu113 as well as Glu181. We assess these models by conducting a pair of microsecond scale, all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of rhodopsin embedded in a 99-lipid bilayer of SDPC, SDPE, and cholesterol (2:2:1 ratio) varying the starting protonation state of Glu181. Theoretical simulations gave different orientations of retinal for the two counterion switch mechanisms, which were used to simulate experimental 2H NMR spectra for the C5, C9, and C13 methyl groups. Comparison of the simulated 2H NMR spectra with experimental data supports the complex-counterion mechanism. Hence, our results indicate that Glu113 and Glu181 stabilize the retinal PSB in the meta I state prior to activation of rhodopsin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16502-16503
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 27 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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