Rhodopsin, the major transmembrane protein in both the plasma membrane and the disk membranes of photoreceptor rod outer segments (ROS) forms the apo-protein opsin upon the absorption of light. In vivo the regeneration of rhodopsin is necessary for subsequent receptor activation and for adaptation, in vitro this regeneration can be followed after the addition of 11-cis retinal. In this study we investigated the ability of bleached rhodopsin to regenerate in the compositionally different membrane environments found in photoreceptor rod cells. When 11-cis retinal was added to bleached ROS plasma membrane preparations, rhodopsin did not regenerate within the same time course or to the same extent as bleached rhodopsin in disk membranes. Over 80% of the rhodopsin in newly formed disks regenerated within 90 minutes while only 40% regenerated in older disks. Since disk membrane cholesterol content increases as disks are displaced from the base to the apical tip of the outer segment, we looked at the affect of membrane cholesterol content on the regeneration process. Enrichment or depletion of disk membrane cholesterol did not alter the % rhodopsin that regenerated. Bulk membrane properties measured with a sterol analog, cholestatrienol and a fatty acid analog, cis parinaric acid, showed a more ordered, less “fluid”, lipid environment within plasma membrane relative to the disks. Collectively these results show that the same membrane receptor, rhodopsin, functions differently as monitored by regeneration in the different lipid environments within photoreceptor rod cells. These differences may be due to the bulk properties of the various membranes.

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