Channelrhodopsins (ChR) are light-gated ion channels of green algae that are widely used to probe the function of neuronal cells with light. Most ChRs show a substantial reduction in photocurrents during illumination, a process named light adaptation". The main objective of this spectroscopic study was to elucidate the molecular processes associated with light-dark adaptation. Here we show by liquid and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy that the retinal chromophore of fully dark-adapted ChR is exclusively in an all-trans configuration. Resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy, however, revealed that already low light intensities establish a photostationary equilibrium between all-trans,15-anti and 13-cis,15-syn configurations at a ratio of 3:1. The underlying photoreactions involve simultaneous isomerization of the C(13)=C(14) and C(15)=N bonds. Both isomers of this DAapp state may run through photoinduced reaction cycles initiated by photoisomerization of only the C(13)=C(14) bond. RR spectroscopic experiments further demonstrated that photoinduced conversion of the apparent dark-adapted (DAapp) state to the photocycle intermediates P500 and P390 is distinctly more efficient for the all-trans isomer than for the 13-cis isomer, possibly because of different chromophore-water interactions. Our data demonstrating two complementary photocycles of the DAapp isomers are fully consistent with the existence of two conducting states that vary in quantitative relation during light-dark adaptation, as suggested previously by electrical measurements.
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