Retinal dynamics during light activation of rhodopsin revealed by solid-state NMR spectroscopy

Michael F. Brown, Gilmar F.J. Salgado, Andrey V. Struts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Rhodopsin is a canonical member of class A of the G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that are implicated in many of the drug interventions in humans and are of great pharmaceutical interest. The molecular mechanism of rhodopsin activation remains unknown as atomistic structural information for the active metarhodopsin II state is currently lacking. Solid-state 2H NMR constitutes a powerful approach to study atomic-level dynamics of membrane proteins. In the present application, we describe how information is obtained about interactions of the retinal cofactor with rhodopsin that change with light activation of the photoreceptor. The retinal methyl groups play an important role in rhodopsin function by directing conformational changes upon transition into the active state. Site-specific 2H labels have been introduced into the methyl groups of retinal and solid-state 2H NMR methods applied to obtain order parameters and correlation times that quantify the mobility of the cofactor in the inactive dark state, as well as the cryotrapped metarhodopsin I and metarhodopsin II states. Analysis of the angular-dependent 2H NMR line shapes for selectively deuterated methyl groups of rhodopsin in aligned membranes enables determination of the average ligand conformation within the binding pocket. The relaxation data suggest that the β-ionone ring is not expelled from its hydrophobic pocket in the transition from the pre-activated metarhodopsin I to the active metarhodopsin II state. Rather, the major structural changes of the retinal cofactor occur already at the metarhodopsin I state in the activation process. The metarhodopsin I to metarhodopsin II transition involves mainly conformational changes of the protein within the membrane lipid bilayer rather than the ligand. The dynamics of the retinylidene methyl groups upon isomerization are explained by an activation mechanism involving cooperative rearrangements of extracellular loop E2 together with transmembrane helices H5 and H6. These activating movements are triggered by steric clashes of the isomerized all-trans retinal with the β4 strand of the E2 loop and the side chains of Glu122 and Trp265 within the binding pocket. The solid-state 2H NMR data are discussed with regard to the pathway of the energy flow in the receptor activation mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-193
Number of pages17
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • G protein-coupled receptor
  • Membrane
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Retinal
  • Rhodopsin
  • Signal transduction
  • Solid-state NMR
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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