Photoentrainment in mammals: a role for cryptochrome?
Lucas RJ., Foster RG.
There is growing evidence in support of the hypothesis that, in mammals, photoreceptive tasks are segregated into those associated with creating a detailed visual image of the environment and those involved in the photic regulation of temporal biology. The hypothesis that this segregation extends to the use of different photoreceptors remains unproven, but published reports from several mammalian species that circadian photoentrainment survives a degree of retinal degeneration sufficient to induce visual blindness suggest that this may be so. This has lead to speculation that mammals might employ a dedicated 'circadian photoreceptor' distinct from the rod and cone cells of the visual system. The location and nature of this putative circadian photoreceptor has become a matter of conjecture. The latest candidates to be put forward as potential circadian photopigments are the mammalian cryptochrome proteins (CRY1 and 2), putative vitamin-B2 based photopigments. To date, published experimental evidence falls short of a definitive demonstration that these proteins form the basis of circadian photoreception in mammals. Consequently, this review aims to assess their suitability for this task in light of what we know regarding the biology of the cyrptochromes and the nature of mammalian photoentrainment.