Vertebrates generally have a single type of rod for scotopic vision and multiple types of cones for photopic vision. Noteworthily, nocturnal geckos transmuted ancestral photoreceptor cells into rods containing not rhodopsin but cone pigments, and, subsequently, diurnal geckos retransmuted these rods into cones containing cone pigments. High sensitivity of scotopic vision is underlain by the rod’s low background noise, which originated from a much lower spontaneous activation rate of rhodopsin than of cone pigments. Here, we revealed that nocturnal gecko cone pigments decreased their spontaneous activation rates to mimic rhodopsin, whereas diurnal gecko cone pigments recovered high rates similar to those of typical cone pigments. We also identified amino acid residues responsible for the alterations of the spontaneous activation rates. Therefore, we concluded that the switch between diurnality and nocturnality in geckos required not only morphological transmutation of photoreceptors but also adjustment of the spontaneous activation rates of visual pigments.
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