The outer segment portion of photoreceptor rod cells is composed of a stacked array of disk membranes. Newly formed disks are found at the base of the rod outer segment (ROS) and are relatively high in membrane cholesterol. Older disks are found at the apical tip of the ROS and are low in membrane cholesterol. Disk membranes were separated based on their membrane cholesterol content and the extent of membrane protein phosphorylation determined. Light induced phosphorylation of ROS disk membrane proteins was investigated using magic angle spinning31P NMR. When intact rod outer segment preparations were stimulated by light, in the presence of endogenously available kinases, membrane proteins located in disks at the base of the ROS were more heavily phosphorylated than those at the tip. SDS-gel electrophoresis of the phosphorylated disk membranes subpopulations identified a phosphoprotein species with a molecular weight of approximately 68–72 kDa that was more heavily phosphorylated in newly formed disks than in old disks. The identity of this phosphoprotein is presently under investigation. When the phosphorylation reaction was carried out in isolated disk membrane preparations with exogenously added co-factors and kinases, there was no preferential protein phosphorylation. Taken collectively, these results suggest that within the ROS there is a protein phosphorylation gradient that maybe indicative of co-factor or kinase heterogeneity.

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