Phototransduction in cones: An inverse problem in enzyme kinetics

James Sneyd, Daniel Tranchina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phototransduction is a process which links the absorption of photons by a rod or cone to the modulation of voltage across the cell membrane. An important feature of many vertebrate photoreceptors is a mechanism that adjusts the sensitivity and dynamics of the response to light according to the level of illumination. We construct a system of ordinary differential equations that models what are currently thought to be the important molecule mechanisms involved in phototransduction: this includes consideration of both intracellular enzyme kinetics and the properties of light-insensitive and light-sensitive conductances in the cone membrane. The system contains negative feedback whose functional form is determined by constraining the steady-state behaviour of the system. Despite the highly nonlinear nature of the system of ordinary differential equations, our methods permit us to derive an analytic expression for the first-order frequency response parametric in the steady-state value of only one dynamic variable, the light input. Various unknown kinetic parameters are found by fitting the model to experimental data on the first-order frequency response of cones measured at several mean light levels spanning a range of four log units. Good fits are obtained to the data, and the computed shape of the feedback function agrees qualitatively with recent experiment. Moreover, the model accounts for the dramatic speeding up of the response kinetics and the decrease in response gain with increasing light level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-784
Number of pages36
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • General Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pharmacology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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