Human fetal optic nerve: overproduction and elimination of retinal axons during development

J Comp Neurol. 1985 Aug 1;238(1):92-100. doi: 10.1002/cne.902380108.


We have estimated the number of axons in the optic nerves of human fetuses ranging in gestational age from approximately 10 to 33 weeks. At 10-12 weeks of gestation there were an estimated 1.9 million axons in the optic nerve. A peak count of 3.7 million axons was obtained from a specimen of 16-17 weeks gestation. The estimated number of axons then declined, stabilizing at an estimated 1.1 million axons by about week 29 of gestation. This figure is in close agreement with an estimate of 1.1-1.3 million optic axons in the human adult optic nerve. The results indicate that at least 70% of optic axons generated during development of the primary visual pathway are lost during fetal life. Part of this loss probably occurs as a result of the refinement of the terminal distribution of ganglion cell projections within their target nuclei. The significance of the relatively prolonged period of axonal loss is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Optic Nerve / embryology*
  • Optic Nerve / ultrastructure
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / ultrastructure