Three-dimensional architecture of murine rod outer segments determined by cryoelectron tomography

J Cell Biol. 2007 Jun 4;177(5):917-25. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200612010. Epub 2007 May 29.


The rod outer segment (ROS) of photoreceptor cells houses all components necessary for phototransduction, a set of biochemical reactions that amplify and propagate a light signal. Theoretical approaches to quantify this process require precise information about the physical boundaries of the ROS. Dimensions of internal structures within the ROS of mammalian species have yet to be determined with the precision required for quantitative considerations. Cryoelectron tomography was utilized to obtain reliable three-dimensional morphological information about this important structure from murine retina. Vitrification of samples permitted imaging of the ROS in a minimally perturbed manner and the preservation of substructures. Tomograms revealed the characteristic highly organized arrangement of disc membranes stacked on top of one another with a surrounding plasma membrane. Distances among the various membrane components of the ROS were measured to define the space available for phototransduction to occur. Reconstruction of segments of the ROS from single-axis tilt series images provided a glimpse into the three-dimensional architecture of this highly differentiated neuron. The reconstructions revealed spacers that likely maintain the proper distance between adjacent discs and between discs and the plasma membrane. Spacers were found distributed throughout the discs, including regions that are distant from the rim region of discs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Mice
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / ultrastructure*