Formation of retinal ganglion cell topography during prenatal development

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Science  15 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4803, pp. 848-851
DOI: 10.1126/science.3576202


A fundamental feature of the mammalian visual system is the nonuniform distribution of ganglion cells across the retinal surface. To understand the ontogenetic processes leading to the formation of retinal ganglion cell topography, changes in the regional density of these neurons were studied in relation to ganglion cell loss and the pattern of retinal growth in the fetal cat. Midway through the gestation period, the density of these neurons was only two to three times greater in the area centralis than in the peripheral retina, whereas shortly before birth this central-to-peripheral difference was nearly 20-fold. Age-related changes in the ganglion cell distribution were found not to correspond in time or magnitude to the massive loss of ganglion cells that occurs during prenatal development. Rather, the formation of ganglion cell density gradients can be accounted for by unequal expansion of the growing fetal retina-peripheral regions expand more than the central region, thereby diluting the peripheral density of ganglion cells to a greater degree. Nonuniform growth, in conjunction with differential periods of neurogenesis of the different types of retinal cells, appears to be a dominant factor regulating overall retinal topography. These results suggest that the differential regional expansion of the fetal retina underlies the formation of magnification factors in the developing visual system.

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