Light-induced photoreceptor apoptosis occurs in many forms of inherited retinal degeneration resulting in blindness in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Though mutations in several photoreceptor signaling proteins have been implicated in triggering this process, the molecular events relating light activation of rhodopsin to photoreceptor death are yet unclear. Here, we uncover a pathway by which activation of rhodopsin in Drosophila mediates apoptosis through a G protein-independent mechanism. This process involves the formation of membrane complexes of phosphorylated, activated rhodopsin and its inhibitory protein arrestin, and subsequent clathrin-dependent endocytosis of these complexes into a cytoplasmic compartment. Together, these data define the proapoptotic molecules in Drosophila photoreceptors and indicate a novel signaling pathway for light-activated rhodopsin molecules in control of photoreceptor viability.
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