Mutations in the tyrosinase gene are often associated with a misrouting of retinal ganglion cell axons at the optic chiasm. In albinos, tyrosinase activity is lost and some ganglion cell axons that would normally project into the ipsilateral optic tract instead cross midline and project into the contralateral tract. The developmental mechanisms that cause this modification in neuronal connectivity are unknown. In this study, we screened six diverse strains of albino mice (strains 129, A, AKR, BALB/c, C57BL/6-c/c, and CD-1) to discover genetically determined variations and possible gene loci that might affect the severity of the albino decussation abnormality. Ganglion cells were retrogradely labeled with horseradish peroxidase, and the ipsilaterally and contralaterally projecting cells were counted. The average number of ipsilaterally projecting ganglion cells in the six albino strains varies from 1,000 to 1,300. Despite this variation, 1.8-1.9% of the total population projects ipsilaterally in each strain. In comparison, 2.8% project ipsilaterally in the pigmented strain, C57BL/6(-)+/+. However, the percentage of displaced, ipsilaterally projecting cells varies substantially among albino strains--from a low of 4% in strain CD-1 to a high of nearly 10% in C57BL/6-c/c. We conclude that even with large differences in genetic background and in absolute numbers of ganglion cells, there is no appreciable variation in the magnitude of decussation error among albino mice. The consistent effect of null alleles at tyrosinase suggests a comparably tight linkage between the biochemical activity of this enzyme and the mechanisms that control decussation phenotype.