Evolution of vertebrate retinal photoreception

Trevor D. Lamb


Recent findings shed light on the steps underlying the evolution of vertebrate photoreceptors and retina. Vertebrate ciliary photoreceptors are not as wholly distinct from invertebrate rhabdomeric photoreceptors as is sometimes thought. Recent information on the phylogenies of ciliary and rhabdomeric opsins has helped in constructing the likely routes followed during evolution. Clues to the factors that led the early vertebrate retina to become invaginated can be obtained by combining recent knowledge about the origin of the pathway for dark re-isomerization of retinoids with knowledge of the inability of ciliary opsins to undergo photoreversal, along with consideration of the constraints imposed under the very low light levels in the deep ocean. Investigation of the origin of cell classes in the vertebrate retina provides support for the notion that cones, rods and bipolar cells all originated from a primordial ciliary photoreceptor, whereas ganglion cells, amacrine cells and horizontal cells all originated from rhabdomeric photoreceptors. Knowledge of the molecular differences between cones and rods, together with knowledge of the scotopic signalling pathway, provides an understanding of the evolution of rods and of the rods' retinal circuitry. Accordingly, it has been possible to propose a plausible scenario for the sequence of evolutionary steps that led to the emergence of vertebrate photoreceptors and retina.


View Full Text