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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Photobiology of microorganisms: how photosensors catch a photon to initialize signalling.

Photobiological processes are relevant for microorganisms for energy generation, protection against excess and/or damaging radiation, and for signalling. In this review we give an overview of the knowledge on the functioning of photosensors in microorganisms, with special emphasis on the conformational changes that lead to signal generation and transduction. Light is absorbed by specific chromophores, which are tuned, by their proteinaceous environment, to function optimally. These chromophores belong to three classes: tetrapyrroles, polyenes and aromatics. The chemical structure of photosensing pigment/protein complexes has been resolved for many of the photobiological processes that have a characteristic sensitivity in the visible and infrared part of the spectrum of (solar) radiation. However, knowledge about the structure of photoreceptors responsible for several physiologically well-characterized photoresponses to UV- and blue light is still lacking. For a limited number of phototransduction processes, the details of light-induced signal transfer are beginning to be understood in atomic detail. This applies particularly to two photosensors involved in phototactic responses in bacteria: sensory rhodopsin I (SR-I) from Halobacterium salinarium and photoactive yellow protein (PYP) from Ectothiorhodospira halophila. The SR-1 system is of special interest because the transducer accepting the signal from SR-1 was recently identified as Htr-1, a homologue of the methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins which have been characterized in Escherichia coli. PYP, on the other hand, may be the first photosensor to actually reveal all relevant details of the kinetics, thermodynamics, and molecular motion of light-induced signal generation, through an understanding of how the photo-isomerization of the chromophore forces the sensor protein into the signalling state. Here we compare these photosensors and discuss common themes in the initiation of photosensory signal transduction in microorganisms in terms of the molecular properties of photosensors and their signalling state.[1]


  1. Photobiology of microorganisms: how photosensors catch a photon to initialize signalling. Hellingwerf, K.J., Hoff, W.D., Crielaard, W. Mol. Microbiol. (1996) [Pubmed]
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