The two-step development of a duplex retina involves distinct events of cone and rod neurogenesis and differentiation

Dev Biol. 2016 Aug 15;416(2):389-401. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.06.041. Epub 2016 Jun 30.


Unlike in mammals, persistent postembryonic retinal growth is a characteristic feature of fish, which includes major remodeling events that affect all cell types including photoreceptors. Consequently, visual capabilities change during development, where retinal sensitivity to different wavelengths of light (photopic vision), -and to limited photons (scotopic vision) are central capabilities for survival. Differently from well-established model fish, Atlantic cod has a prolonged larval stage where only cone photoreceptors are present. Rods do not appear until juvenile transition (metamorphosis), a hallmark of indirect developing species. Previously we showed that whole gene families of lws (red-sensitive) and sws1 (UV-sensitive) opsins have been lost in cod, while rh2a (green-sensitive) and sws2 (blue-sensitive) genes have tandem duplicated. Here, we provide a comprehensive characterization of a two-step developing duplex retina in Atlantic cod. The study focuses on cone subtype dynamics and delayed rod neurogenesis and differentiation in all cod life stages. Using transcriptomic and histological approaches we show that different opsins disappear in a topographic manner during development where central to peripheral retina is a key axis of expressional change. Early cone differentiation was initiated in dorso-temporal retina different from previously described in fish. Rods first appeared during initiation of metamorphosis and expression of the nuclear receptor transcription factor nr2e3-1, suggest involvement in rod specification. The indirect developmental strategy thus allows for separate studies of cones and rods development, which in nature correlates with visual changes linked to habitat shifts. The clustering of key retinal genes according to life stage, suggests that Atlantic cod with its sequenced genome may be an important resource for identification of underlying factors required for development and function of photopic and scotopic vision.

Keywords: Atlantic cod; Cone; Indirect development; Metamorphosis; Nr2e3; RNA-Seq; Rod; Visual opsins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eye Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Gadus morhua / embryology
  • Gadus morhua / genetics
  • Gadus morhua / growth & development*
  • Gene Duplication
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Larva
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Metamorphosis, Biological
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Opsins / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / embryology
  • Retina / growth & development*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / cytology*
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcriptome
  • Vision, Ocular


  • Eye Proteins
  • Opsins
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Transcription Factors