Solution NMR spectroscopy of labeled arrestin-1 was used to explore its interactions with dark-state phosphorylated rhodopsin (P-Rh), phosphorylated opsin (P-opsin), unphosphorylated light-activated rhodopsin (Rh*), and phosphorylated light-activated rhodopsin (P-Rh*). Distinct sets of arrestin-1 elements were seen to be engaged by Rh* and inactive P-Rh, which induced conformational changes that differed from those triggered by binding of P-Rh*. Although arrestin-1 affinity for Rh* was seen to be low (K(D) > 150 μM), its affinity for P-Rh (K(D) ~80 μM) was comparable to the concentration of active monomeric arrestin-1 in the outer segment, suggesting that P-Rh generated by high-gain phosphorylation is occupied by arrestin-1 under physiological conditions and will not signal upon photo-activation. Arrestin-1 was seen to bind P-Rh* and P-opsin with fairly high affinity (K(D) of~50 and 800 nM, respectively), implying that arrestin-1 dissociation is triggered only upon P-opsin regeneration with 11-cis-retinal, precluding noise generated by opsin activity. Based on their observed affinity for arrestin-1, P-opsin and inactive P-Rh very likely affect the physiological monomer-dimer-tetramer equilibrium of arrestin-1, and should therefore be taken into account when modeling photoreceptor function. The data also suggested that complex formation with either P-Rh* or P-opsin results in a global transition in the conformation of arrestin-1, possibly to a dynamic molten globule-like structure. We hypothesize that this transition contributes to the mechanism that triggers preferential interactions of several signaling proteins with receptor-activated arrestins.