The compound eye of the honeybee has previously been shown to contain a soluble retinal photoisomerase which, in vitro, is able to catalyze stereospecifically the photoconversion of all-trans retinal to 11-cis retinal. In this study we combine in vivo and in vitro techniques to demonstrate how the retinal photoisomerase is involved in the visual cycle, creating 11-cis retinal for the generation of visual pigment. Honeybees have approximately 2.5 pmol/eye of retinal associated with visual pigments, but larger amounts (4-12 pmol/eye) of both retinal and retinol bound to soluble proteins. When bees are dark adapted for 24 h or longer, greater than 80% of the endogenous retinal, mostly in the all-trans configuration, is associated with the retinal photoisomerase. On exposure to blue light the retinal is isomerized to 11-cis, which makes it available to an alcohol dehydrogenase. Most of it is then reduced to 11-cis retinol. The retinol is not esterified and remains associated with a soluble protein, serving as a reservoir of 11-cis retinoid available for renewal of visual pigment. Alternatively, 11-cis retinal can be transferred directly to opsin to regenerate rhodopsin, as shown by synthesis of rhodopsin in bleached frog rod outer segments. This retinaldehyde cycle from the honeybee is the third to be described. It appears very similar to the system in another group of arthropods, flies, and differs from the isomerization processes in vertebrates and cephalopod mollusks.

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