Photopigment coexpression in mammals: comparative and developmental aspects

Histol Histopathol. 2005 Apr;20(2):551-74. doi: 10.14670/HH-20.551.


In mammals, each cone had been thought to contain only one single type of photopigment. It was not until the early 1990s that photopigment coexpression was reported. In the house mouse, the distribution of color cones shows a characteristic division. Whereas in the upper retinal field the ratio of short wave to middle-to-long wave cones falls in the usual range (1:10), in the ventral retinal field M/L-pigment expression is completely missing. In the transitional zone, numerous dual cones are detectable (spatial coexpression). In other species without retinal division, dual cones appear during development, suggesting that M/L-cones develop from S-cones. Dual elements represent a transitory stage in M/L-cone differentiation that disappear with maturation (transitory coexpression). These two phenomena seem to be mutually exclusive in the species studied so far. In the comparative part of this report the retinal cone distribution of eight rodent species is reported. In two species dual cones appear in adult specimens without retinal division, and dual elements either occupy the dorsal peripheral retina, or make up the entire cone population. This is the first observation proving that all cones of a retina are of dual nature. These species are good models for the study of molecular control of opsin expression and renders them suitable sources of dual cones for investigations on the role and neural connections of this peculiar cone type. In the developmental part, the retinal maturation of other species is examined to test the hypothesis of transitory coexpression. In these species S-pigment expression precedes that of the M/L-pigment, but dual cones are either identified in a small number or they are completely missing from the developing retina. These results exclude a common mechanism for M/L-cone maturation: they either transdifferentiate from S-cones or develop independently.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mammals / anatomy & histology
  • Mammals / growth & development*
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / metabolism
  • Primates
  • Rabbits
  • Retina / anatomy & histology
  • Retina / growth & development
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / anatomy & histology
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / growth & development*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Retinal Pigments / metabolism*
  • Rodentia
  • Species Specificity
  • Tupaiidae


  • Retinal Pigments