The tree shrew has a cone-dominated retina with a rod proportion of 5%, in contrast to the common mammalian pattern of rod-dominated retinae. As a first step to elucidate the rod pathway in the tree shrew retina, we have demonstrated the presence of rod bipolar cells and studied their morphology and distribution by light and electron microscopy. Rod bipolar cells were labeled with an antiserum against the protein kinase C (PKC), a phosphorylating enzyme. Intense PKC immunoreactivity was found in perikarya, axons, and dendrites of rod bipolar cells. The cell bodies are located in the sclerad part of the inner nuclear layer, the dendrites ascend to the outer plexiform layer where they are postsynaptic to rod spherules, and an axon descends towards the inner plexiform layer (IPL). The axons branch, and terminate in the vitread third of the IPL where mammalian rod bipolar cells are known to terminate. Two amacrine cell processes are always seen as the postsynaptic elements (dyads). Dendritic and axonal arbors of rod bipolar cells are rather large, up to 100 microns in diameter. The topographical distribution of the rod bipolar cells was analyzed quantitatively in tangential sections. Their density ranges from 300 cells/mm2 in peripheral retina to 900 cells/mm2 more centrally. The distribution is rather flat with no local extremes. Consistent with the low rod proportion in tree shrew, the rod bipolar cell density is low compared to the rod-dominated cat retina for example (36,000-47,000 rod bipolar cells/mm2). Rod-to-rod bipolar cell ratios in the tree shrew retina range from smaller than 1 to about 7, and thus are also lower than in cat.