Photonics Dictionary


Opsins are a group of light-sensitive proteins found primarily in the retinas of vertebrate and invertebrate eyes, as well as in other light-sensitive tissues. These proteins play a crucial role in the process of phototransduction, which is the conversion of light into electrical signals that can be interpreted by the nervous system.

Opsins contain a retinal chromophore, which is a light-sensitive molecule that undergoes a conformational change when exposed to light. This conformational change triggers a cascade of molecular events within the cell, ultimately leading to the generation of electrical signals that can be transmitted to the brain.

In vertebrates, there are several classes of opsins, each sensitive to different wavelengths of light, allowing for the perception of color. For example, rhodopsin, found in rod cells of the vertebrate retina, is sensitive to dim light and is involved in low-light vision (scotopic vision). Cone cells, on the other hand, contain opsins such as photopsins, which are sensitive to different wavelengths of light and are responsible for color vision (photopic vision) and high-acuity vision.

In addition to their role in vision, opsins are also found in non-visual tissues where they regulate various physiological processes in response to light. For example, melanopsin, found in a specialized subset of retinal ganglion cells, plays a role in regulating circadian rhythms, pupillary light reflexes, and other non-image-forming visual functions.

Opsins have been widely studied for their potential applications in optogenetics, a field that involves using light to control the activity of specific cells or neural circuits. By introducing light-sensitive opsins into target cells, researchers can precisely control their activity using light, allowing for the manipulation of neuronal activity with high spatial and temporal precision. This technique has implications for understanding neural circuits, studying brain function, and developing potential therapies for neurological disorders.

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