Developmental redistribution of photoreceptors across the Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque) retina

Academic Article


  • Redistributions of monkey cones and rods during the first year after birth include a fivefold increase in peak foveal cone density from 43,000 to 210,000 cones/mm2, a decrease in the diameter of the rod‐sparse area, and a two‐ to threefold decrease in peripheral photoreceptor density. Two weeks before birth, higher cone density is already apparent in the future fovea, as are the nasotemporal asymmetry in cone distribution, a higher density “cone streak” along the horizontal meridian, a large rod‐sparse central fovea, and a ring of high rod density. Despite the early appearance of these basic patterns, photoreceptor distribution is not mature until 1 to 5 years postnatally. Total cones varied from 4 million at birth to 3.1 million in the average adult. The two oldest eyes had fewer cones, suggesting up to a 25% loss late in development. There were 60 to 70 million rods in the adult macaque retina and little evidence of postnatal changes in number. Neither of these small changes is sufficient to account for the reduction in peripheral photoreceptor density and both are in the wrong direction to explain increasing foveal density, ruling out a major role for either photoreceptor death or generation. Retinal area increased by a factor of 2.4 from 2 weeks before birth to adulthood. In contrast, the posterior pole of the retina was dimensionally stable throughout this period, with the distance between the fovea and optic disc varying nonsystematically from 3.37 to 4.05 mm. Retinal coverage of the globe was also stable at 48–60%. Thus postnatal growth can be ruled out as a factor in the density changes occurring in central retina. Adult retinas have a higher proportion of both cones and rods in midperiphery, whereas young retinas have a higher proportion of photoreceptors in far periphery. It appears that photoreceptors are radially redistributed from peripheral toward central retina during postnatal development, resulting in the marked increase in foveal cone density and the decrease in the eccentricity of the rod ring. Up to 13 weeks postnatally, midperipheral growth of the retina is substantial and increases with eccentricity. At later ages, expansion continues only in the very far periphery. Retinal growth appears sufficient to explain the decreases in peripheral rod and cone density with age. These and previous data strongly suggest that differentiated photoreceptors, with complex cytology and synaptic contacts, migrate toward the foveal center, explaining the increase in foveal photoreceptor density. The distance that cones migrate between E152 and adulthood increases from 0 at the foveal center to a maximum of 0.230 mm for cones originally located at 1mm of eccentricity in the immature retina. This migration is equal to published measurements of the length of fibers of Henle for cones located at 0.75 mm in the adult. These data suggest that at the center of the fovea, the length of the fiber of Henle is due to outward migration of the bipolar neuron to which the photoreceptor is connected, but that by 0.75 mm, the length of the fiber is due to the centralward migration of the photoreceptor. Copyright © 1990 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Packer O; Hendrickson AE; Curcio CA
  • Start Page

  • 472
  • End Page

  • 493
  • Volume

  • 298
  • Issue

  • 4