NYU Researchers Identify New Class of Photoreceptors in Retina, Pointing to New Ways Sights-and Smells-Are Regulated

The identification of a new class of photoreceptors in the retina of fruit flies sheds light on the regulation of the pigments of the eye that confer color vision, researchers at New York University’s Center for Developmental Genetics report in a new study appearing in the Public Library of Science’s journal, PloS Biology. The findings, they write, may also have implications for the regulating of olfactory receptors, which are responsible for the detection of smells, because both types of receptors belong to the same protein family.

Biologists have previously found that most sensory systems follow the “one receptor molecule per receptor cell” rule. For example, photoreceptors in the fly eye and human cones-our color-sensitive photoreceptors-each express only one rhodopsin, a pigment that is sensitive to only one color. Rhodopsins are G-coupled protein receptors, a class of ancient signaling molecules that mediate not just vision, but also the sense of smell and other physiological processes.

In the PloS Biology study, the NYU researchers examined the eye of the fruit fly Drosophila. Fruit flies can be analyzed and manipulated in exquisite details by biologists and serve as a powerful model system to understand biological processes such as vision. In each of the estimated 800 individual facets that make up the fly eye, there are eight photoreceptors (R1-R8). Six of these mediate broad-spectrum detection of motion (R1-R6) and two mediate color vision (R7 and R8) and are similar to the human cone photoreceptor 500

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