The properties of the major visual pigment of Drosophila melanogaster were evaluated. The visual pigment was isolated from other protein components using acrylamide gel electrophoresis and spectral identification. Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) acrylamide gels of the isolated visual pigment gave a single protein subunit with a mol wt of 37,000 daltons. The rhodopsin480 molar extinction coefficient was 35,000 liter/mol-cm (+/- 2,700 SE). The metarhodopsin580 molar extinction coefficient was approximately 56,000 liter/mol-cm. Microspectrophotometry was used to compare the rhodopsin concentrations in wild-type flies and norpA vision transduction mutants. At 2 days of age (12 h dark-12 h light cycle, 19 degrees C) all of the norpA flies exhibited a similar rhodopsin concentration (75% of the wild-type strain). By 21 days of age some of the norpA alleles showed substantially reduced rhodopsin concentrations (16-43% of normal), whereas others showed no major age-dependent decreases (68-77%). Temperature and light-dark cycle affected the reduction. Alleles with no receptor potential exhibited the largest decreases in rhodopsin concentration. The data indicate that the norpA phototransduction mutant has a defect in the system responsible for maintaining the rhodopsin480 concentration. This defect in the rhodopsin maintenance system does not appear to be the cause of the reduced electroretinogram (ERG) amplitude observed in some of these mutants, but instead is a consequence of the decrease in ERG amplitude, or the flaw(s) responsible for the decrease in ERG amplitude.

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