Ommatidial type-specific interphotoreceptor connections in the lamina of the swallowtail butterfly, Papilio xuthus

J Comp Neurol. 2006 Feb 1;494(4):663-72. doi: 10.1002/cne.20830.


The eye of the butterfly Papilio xuthus contains a random array of three types of ommatidia (types I-III), each bearing nine photoreceptors, R1-R9. Of the six spectral classes of photoreceptors identified, types I, II, and III ommatidia contain four, three, and two classes, respectively: the ommatidia are thus spectrally heterogeneous. The photoreceptors send their axons to the lamina where, together with some large monopolar cells (LMCs), the nine from a single ommatidium contribute to a module called a lamina cartridge. We recently reported that among different photoreceptor axon terminals visualized by confocal microscopy, the number and length of axon collaterals differ for different spectral receptors, suggesting that lamina circuits are specific for each ommatidial type. Here we studied the distribution of synapse-like structures in the cartridges, first characterizing a photoreceptor by measuring its spectral sensitivity and then injecting Lucifer yellow (LY). We subsequently histologically identified the type of ommatidium to which the injected photoreceptor belonged, cut serial ultrathin sections of the entire lamina, labeled these with anti-LY immunocytochemistry, and then localized synapse-like structures. We found numerous interphotoreceptor contacts both within and between cartridges, the combination of which was again specific for the ommatidial type. R3 and R4, which are green-sensitive photoreceptors in all ommatidia, have thick axons lacking collaterals. We found that these cells exclusively make contacts with LMCs and not with photoreceptors. We therefore presume that R3 and R4 construct a system for motion vision, whereas other randomly distributed spectral types provide inputs for color vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / ultrastructure*
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Eye / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / ultrastructure*
  • Retinal Pigments / classification
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Visual Pathways / ultrastructure


  • Retinal Pigments