Researchers Find Rods Use Less Light-Processing Proteins Than Previously Thought

For over three decades, ophthalmologists and have been taught that a single photon can cause a chain reaction within the eye that activates over 500 G proteins. According to the research scientists at John Hopkins, the actual number of triggered G proteins is actually significantly reduced– possibly even to as little as 10 to 12 proteins.

G proteins are molecules within the biochemical signaling pathway family. While the rods in the eyes contain these molecules, they can also be found throughout other parts of the body.

Photons are single particles of light. When light hits the eye, the retina absorbs it through rhodopsin proteins that activate G proteins. This sparks a chain reaction to other enzymes which allows our brains to process sight.

By singling out a single rod on a mouse, King-Wai Yau, Ph. D and his team have uncovered that the common “knowledge” of 500 G protein reactions is a gross over estimation. Not only does this discovery help scientists and physicians understand how we process light better, but this can also lead to further studies of G proteins in other parts of the body.

Further studies can delve deeper into the other senses and how many- or how few- proteins are required for stimulation. Pharmaceuticals can hone in on specific proteins to potentially increase vision in those who have diminished sight.

Personally, I feel that one of the most important aspects of this finding is that something that people believed for decades was proven wrong. All too often, people feel that what is published is fact and that there is no reason to review it, when clearly, we have so much more to learn. This discovery may seem like a drop in the bucket for ophthalmology, but it has potential to contribute to a medical advancement in the future.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, May 16). Revision to common view on how retinal cells in mammals process light. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 10, 2019 from

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