Nonretinal/nonpineal photosensitivity has been found in the brain of vertebrates, but the molecular basis for such a "deep brain" photoreception system remains unclear. We conducted an extensive search for brain opsin cDNAs of the zebrafish (Danio rerio), a useful animal model for genetic studies, and we have isolated a partial cDNA clone encoding an ortholog of vertebrate ancient (VA) opsin, the function of which is unknown. Subsequent characterization revealed the occurrence of two kinds of mRNAs encoding putative splicing variants, VA and VA-Long (VAL) opsin, the latter of which is a novel variant of the former. Both opsins shared a common core sequence in the membrane-spanning domains, but VAL-opsin had a C-terminal tail much longer than that of VA-opsin. Functional reconstitution experiments on the recombinant proteins showed that VAL-opsin with bound 11-cis-retinal is a green-sensitive pigment (lambdamax approximately 500 nm), whereas VA-opsin exhibited no photosensitivity even in the presence of 11-cis-retinal. Immunoreactivity specific to this functionally active VAL-opsin was localized at a limited number of cells surrounding the diencephalic ventricle of central thalamus, and these cells were distributed over approximately 200 micrometer along the rostrocaudal axis. Taken together with the previous study on the locus of the teleost brain photosensitivity (von Frisch K, 1911), it is strongly suggested that the VAL-positive cells in the zebrafish brain represent the deep brain photoreceptors. The VAL-specific immunoreactivity was also detected in a subset of non-GABAergic horizontal cells in the zebrafish retina. The existence of VAL-opsin, a new member of the rhodopsin superfamily, in these tissues may indicate its multiple roles in visual and nonvisual photosensory physiology.