Visual pigment bleaching desensitizes rod photoreceptors greatly in excess of that due to loss of quantum catch. Whether this phenomenon also occurs in cone photoreceptors was investigated for isolated salamander red-sensitive cones. In parallel experiments, (a) visual pigment depletion by steps of bleaching light was measured by microspectrophotometry, and (b) flash sensitivity was measured by recording light-sensitive membrane current. In isolated cones, visual pigment bleaching permanently reduced flash sensitivity significantly below that due to the reduction in quantum catch, and there was little spontaneous recovery of visual pigment. The "extra" desensitization due to bleaching was most prominent up to bleaches of approximately 80% visual pigment and reached a level approximately 1 log unit beyond that due to loss of quantum catch. At higher bleaches, the effect of loss of quantum catch became more important. Bleaching did not greatly reduce the maximum light-suppressible membrane current. A 99% reduction of the visual pigment permanently reduced the circulating current by only 30%. Visual pigment bleaching speeded up the kinetics of dim flash responses. All electrical effects of bleaching were reversed on exposure to 11-cis retinal, which probably caused visual pigment regeneration. Light adaptation in photopic vision is known to involve significant visual pigment depletion. The present results indicate that cones operate with a maintained circulating current even after a large pigment depletion. It is shown how Weber/Fechner behavior may still be observed in photopic vision when the contributions of bleaching to adaptation are included.

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