Royal Society Publishing

Mutations in S-Cone Pigment Genes and the Absence of Colour Vision in Two Species of Nocturnal Primate

Gerald H. Jacobs, Maureen Neitz, Jay Neitz


Most primates have short-wavelength sensitive (S) cones and one or more types of cone maximally sensitive in the middle to long wavelengths (M/L cones). These multiple cone types provide the basis for colour vision. Earlier experiments established that two species of nocturnal primate, the owl monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) and the bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus), lack a viable population of S cones. Because the retinas of these species have only a single type of M/L cone, they lack colour vision. Both of these species have an S-cone pigment gene that is highly homologous to the human S-cone pigment gene. Examination of the nucleotide sequences of the S-cone pigment genes reveals that each species has deleterious mutational changes: in comparison to the sequence for the corresponding region of the human gene, exon 4 of the bushbaby S-cone pigment gene has a two nucleotide deletion and a single nucleotide insertion that produces a frame shift and results in the introduction of a stop codon. Exon 1 of the owl monkey S-cone pigment gene likewise contains deletions and insertions that produce a stop codon. The absence of colour vision in both of these nocturnal primates can thus be traced to defects in their S-cone pigment genes.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution