Unexpected diversity and photoperiod dependence of the zebrafish melanopsin system

Vanessa Matos-Cruz, Joseph Blasic, Benjamin Nickle, Phyllis R. Robinson, Samer Hattar, Marnie E. Halpern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animals have evolved specialized photoreceptors in the retina and in extraocular tissues that allow them to measure light changes in their environment. In mammals, the retina is the only structure that detects light and relays this information to the brain. The classical photoreceptors, rods and cones, are responsible for vision through activation of rhodopsin and cone opsins. Melanopsin, another photopigment first discovered in Xenopus melanophores (Opn4x), is expressed in a small subset of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in the mammalian retina, where it mediates non-image forming functions such as circadian photoentrainment and sleep. While mammals have a single melanopsin gene (opn4), zebrafish show remarkable diversity with two opn4x-related and three opn4-related genes expressed in distinct patterns in multiple neuronal cell types of the developing retina, including bipolar interneurons. The intronless opn4.1 gene is transcribed in photoreceptors as well as in horizontal cells and produces functional photopigment. Four genes are also expressed in the zebrafish embryonic brain, but not in the photoreceptive pineal gland. We discovered that photoperiod length influences expression of two of the opn4-related genes in retinal layers involved in signaling light information to RGCs. Moreover, both genes are expressed in a robust diurnal rhythm but with different phases in relation to the light-dark cycle. The results suggest that melanopsin has an expanded role in modulating the retinal circuitry of fish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere25111
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 22 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Unexpected diversity and photoperiod dependence of the zebrafish melanopsin system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this