A burst of differentiation in the outer posterior retina of the eleven-week human fetus: an ultrastructural study

Vis Neurosci. 1990 Jul;5(1):43-60. doi: 10.1017/s0952523800000067.


Many studies on human retinal development have cited the third gestational month as a period when the posterior retina undergoes rapid differentiation and maturation, including a lining up of cone precursors. Ultrastructural data on the posterior retina during the third month are very limited, and totally lacking for the cone monolayer. We have examined two human fetal retinas between ten and 11 gestational weeks. Before the appearance of the cone monolayer, the outer neural retina consists of a homogeneous population of undifferentiated neuroblasts. Mitotic figures are still evident, even posteriorally. There is no outer plexiform layer (OPL). The interface of neural retina to retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is largely featureless. By 11 weeks, the posterior retina has a thin OPL that separates the many rows of cells in the developing inner nuclear layer from the single tier of macular cone precursors. The RPE monolayer consists of cuboidal cells whose apical surface elaborates ridges of cytoplasm and branched processes that project into the subretinal space. The large, cuboidal cones are linked to each other and Müller cells at the outer limiting membrane. They show definitive signs of the structural polarity typical of vertebrate photoreceptors. Their apical cytoplasm contains many organelles common to the inner segment, while the basal cytoplasm has synaptic ribbons and vesicles, and receives invaginating contacts from processes in the OPL neuropil arising from differentiating second-order neurons. Lateral cone surfaces are mutually underlain by large subsurface cisterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Photoreceptor Cells / embryology
  • Photoreceptor Cells / ultrastructure
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / embryology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / ultrastructure
  • Retina / embryology*
  • Retina / ultrastructure