Convergent evolution of dim light vision in owls and deep-diving whales

Gianni M Castiglione , Yan L I Chiu , Eduardo de A Gutierrez , Alexander Van Nynatten , Frances E Hauser , Matthew Preston , Nihar Bhattacharyya , Ryan K Schott , Belinda S W Chang

Curr Biol. 2023 Nov 6;33(21):4733-4740.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.09.015

Pubmed: 37776863


Animals with enhanced dim-light sensitivity are at higher risk of light-induced retinal degeneration when exposed to bright light conditions.1,2,3,4 This trade-off is mediated by the rod photoreceptor sensory protein, rhodopsin (RHO), and its toxic vitamin A chromophore by-product, all-trans retinal.5,6,7,8 Rod arrestin (Arr-1) binds to RHO and promotes sequestration of excess all-trans retinal,9,10 which has recently been suggested as a protective mechanism against photoreceptor cell death.2,11 We investigated Arr-1 evolution in animals at high risk of retinal damage due to periodic bright-light exposure of rod-dominated retinas. Here, we find the convergent evolution of enhanced Arr-1/RHO all-trans-retinal sequestration in owls and deep-diving whales. Statistical analyses reveal a parallel acceleration of Arr-1 evolutionary rates in these lineages, which is associated with the introduction of a rare Arr-1 mutation (Q69R) into the RHO-Arr-1 binding interface. Using in vitro assays, we find that this single mutation significantly enhances RHO-all-trans-retinal sequestration by ∼30%. This functional convergence across 300 million years of evolutionary divergence suggests that Arr-1 and RHO may play an underappreciated role in the photoprotection of the eye, with potentially vast clinical significance.

Keywords: Stargardt; age-related macular degeneration; all trans retinal; arrestin; blindness; evolution; owl; rhodopsin; vision; whale.