A rich variety of mechanisms govern the inactivation of the rod phototransduction cascade. These include rhodopsin phosphorylation and subsequent binding of arrestin; modulation of rhodopsin kinase by S-modulin (recoverin); regulation of G-protein and phosphodiesterase inactivation by GTPase-activating factors; and modulation of guanylyl cyclase by a high-affinity Ca(2+)-binding protein. The dependence of several of the inactivation mechanisms on Ca2+i makes it difficult to assess the contributions of these mechanisms to the recovery kinetics in situ, where Ca2+i is dynamically modulated during the photoresponse. We recorded the circulating currents of salamander rods, the inner segments of which are held in suction electrodes in Ringer's solution. We characterized the response kinetics to flashes under two conditions: when the outer segments are in Ringer's solution, and when they are in low-Ca2+ choline solutions, which we show clamp Ca2+i very near its resting level. At T = 20-22 degrees C, the recovery phases of responses to saturating flashes producing 10(2.5)-10(4.5) photoisomerizations under both conditions are characterized by a dominant time constant, tau c = 2.4 +/- 0.4 s, the value of which is not dependent on the solution bathing the outer segment and therefore not dependent on Ca2+i. We extended a successful model of activation by incorporating into it a first-order inactivation of R*, and a first-order, simultaneous inactivation of G-protein (G*) and phosphodiesterase (PDE*). We demonstrated that the inactivation kinetics of families of responses obtained with Ca2+i clamped to rest are well characterized by this model, having one of the two inactivation time constants (tau r* or tau PDE*) equal to tau c, and the other time constant equal to 0.4 +/- 0.06 s.

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