Stable mammalian cell lines harboring a synthetic bovine opsin gene have been derived from the suspension-adapted HEK293 cell line. The opsin gene is under the control of the immediate-early cytomegalovirus promoter/enhancer in an expression vector that also contains a selectable marker (Neo) governed by a relatively weak promoter. The cell lines expressing the opsin gene at high levels are selected by growth in the presence of high concentrations of the antibiotic geneticin. Under the conditions used for cell growth in suspension, opsin is produced at saturated culture levels of more than 2 mg/liter. After reconstitution with 11-cis-retinal, rhodopsin is purified to homogeneity in a single step by immunoaffinity column chromatography. Rhodopsin thus prepared (> 90% recovery at concentrations of up to 15 microM) is indistinguishable from rhodopsin purified from bovine rod outer segments by the following criteria: (i) UV/Vis absorption spectra in the dark and after photobleaching and the rate of metarhodopsin II decay, (ii) initial rates of transducin activation, and (iii) the rate of phosphorylation by rhodopsin kinase. Although mammalian cell opsin migrates slower than rod outer segment opsin on SDS/polyacrylamide gels, presumably due to a different N-glycosylation pattern, their mobilities after deglycosylation are identical. This method has enabled the preparation of several site-specific mutants of bovine opsin in comparable amounts.