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Krzysztof Palczewski; Chemistry and Biology of the Initial Steps in Vision: The Friedenwald Lecture. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2014;55(10):6651-6672. doi: 10.1167/iovs.14-15502.
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Visual transduction is the process in the eye whereby absorption of light in the retina is translated into electrical signals that ultimately reach the brain. The first challenge presented by visual transduction is to understand its molecular basis. We know that maintenance of vision is a continuous process requiring the activation and subsequent restoration of a vitamin A–derived chromophore through a series of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes in the retina and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Diverse biochemical approaches that identified key proteins and reactions were essential to achieve a mechanistic understanding of these visual processes. The three-dimensional arrangements of these enzymes' polypeptide chains provide invaluable insights into their mechanisms of action. A wealth of information has already been obtained by solving high-resolution crystal structures of both rhodopsin and the retinoid isomerase from pigment RPE (RPE65). Rhodopsin, which is activated by photoisomerization of its 11-cis-retinylidene chromophore, is a prototypical member of a large family of membrane-bound proteins called G protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs). RPE65 is a retinoid isomerase critical for regeneration of the chromophore. Electron microscopy (EM) and atomic force microscopy have provided insights into how certain proteins are assembled to form much larger structures such as rod photoreceptor cell outer segment membranes. A second challenge of visual transduction is to use this knowledge to devise therapeutic approaches that can prevent or reverse conditions leading to blindness. Imaging modalities like optical coherence tomography (OCT) and scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (SLO) applied to appropriate animal models as well as human retinal imaging have been employed to characterize blinding diseases, monitor their progression, and evaluate the success of therapeutic agents. Lately two-photon (2-PO) imaging, together with biochemical assays, are revealing functional aspects of vision at a new molecular level. These multidisciplinary approaches combined with suitable animal models and inbred mutant species can be especially helpful in translating provocative cell and tissue culture findings into therapeutic options for further development in animals and eventually in humans. A host of different approaches and techniques is required for substantial progress in understanding fundamental properties of the visual system.
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