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Letters to Nature
Nature 356, 433 - 435 (02 April 1992); doi:10.1038/356433a0

Absorption spectra of human cone pigments

Shannath L. Merbs* & Jeremy Nathans*

*Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and Department of Neuroscience, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA

HUMAN colour vision is mediated by three light-sensitive pigments, each found in a different cone-cell type1. The absorption spectra of the human cone pigments have been sought for over a century2 using techniques such as psychophysical colour matching3, reflection densitometry4, electroretinography5, single-cell action spectra6 and, most directly, microspectrophotometry7,8. We report here a direct determination of the human cone pigment photo-bleaching difference absorption spectra after the production of each cone pigment apoprotein in tissue culture cells transfected with the corresponding complementary DNA clones9,10. The mean values for the wavelength of maximal absorption are 426 nm for the blue pigment, 530 nm for the green pigment, and 552 nm and 557 nm for two polymorphic variants of the red pigment.

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