Human photoreceptor topography

J Comp Neurol. 1990 Feb 22;292(4):497-523. doi: 10.1002/cne.902920402.


We have measured the spatial density of cones and rods in eight whole-mounted human retinas, obtained from seven individuals between 27 and 44 years of age, and constructed maps of photoreceptor density and between-individual variability. The average human retina contains 4.6 million cones (4.08-5.29 million). Peak foveal cone density averages 199,000 cones/mm2 and is highly variable between individuals (100,000-324,000 cones/mm2). The point of highest density may be found in an area as large as 0.032 deg2. Cone density falls steeply with increasing eccentricity and is an order of magnitude lower 1 mm away from the foveal center. Superimposed on this gradient is a streak of high cone density along the horizontal meridian. At equivalent eccentricities, cone density is 40-45% higher in nasal compared to temporal retina and slightly higher in midperipheral inferior compared to superior retina. Cone density also increases slightly in far nasal retina. The average human retina contains 92 million rods (77.9-107.3 million). In the fovea, the average horizontal diameter of the rod-free zone is 0.350 mm (1.25 degrees). Foveal rod density increases most rapidly superiorly and least rapidly nasally. The highest rod densities are located along an elliptical ring at the eccentricity of the optic disk and extending into nasal retina with the point of highest density typically in superior retina (5/6 eyes). Rod densities decrease by 15-25% where the ring crosses the horizontal meridian. Rod density declines slowly from the rod ring to the far periphery and is highest in nasal and superior retina. Individual variability in photoreceptor density differs with retinal region and is similar for both cones and rods. Variability is highest near the fovea, reaches a minimum in the midperiphery, and then increases with eccentricity to the ora serrata. The total number of foveal cones is similar for eyes with widely varying peak cone density, consistent with the idea that the variability reflects differences in the lateral migration of photoreceptors during development. Two fellow eyes had cone and rod numbers within 8% and similar but not identical photoreceptor topography.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Count
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photoreceptor Cells / cytology*
  • Retina / anatomy & histology*