The distribution of honeybee retinal photoisomerase, a soluble light-requiring enzyme that stereospecifically forms W-cis retinal, was investigated by immunoelectron microscopy and by HPLC. Immunolocalization with polyclonal antibodies shows that the highest concentration of retinal photoisomerase is located in the proximal portion of the primary pigment cells in large aggregates (approximately 2 μm diameter).
Photoisomerase is also located in the peripheral portion of the photoreceptor cells, laterally displaced from the rhabdom, but in much lower concentration. Because of the larger volume of the photoreceptor cells, about half of the total immunoreactivity is associated with the primary pigment cells.
Dissection of the eye with the subsequent use of HPLC to assay for photoisomerase activity showed that most of the photoisomerase activity is associated with tissues near the cornea. The same tissue also supports the reduction of W-cis retinal to W-cis retinol. These biochemical findings are consistent with the immunolocalization of retinal photoisomerase to the high-concentration aggregates in the primary pigment cells that surround the crystalline cones. The major synthesis of W-cis retinol therefore takes place in the primary pigment cells, and the retinoid must be moved into the photoreceptor cells to be available to newly synthesized opsin. The immunoreactivity of the photoreceptor cells appears to reflect the presence of some isomerase without an attached retinoid chromophore.