The development of vision in the zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Dev Biol. 1996 Dec 15;180(2):646-63. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1996.0335.


We studied the development and maturation of the visual system by determining when zebrafish begin to see and to move their eyes. This information was correlated with the time courses of the development of the retina, the retinofugal projection, the retinal image, and the extraocular muscles, to obtain an integrated picture of early visual development. Two visual behaviors were monitored over 48-96 hr postfertilization (hpf). The startle response (body twitch) was evoked by an abrupt decrease in light intensity. The optokinetic response (tracking eye movements) was evoked by rotation of a striped drum. Visually evoked startle developed over 68-79 hpf, more than 20 hr after the onset of a touch-evoked startle. It was not seen in eyeless fish, excluding a role for nonretinal light senses. Tracking eye movements developed over 73-80 hpf. They were always in the direction of drum rotation, even when the fish had been light deprived from blastula stage, ruling out a "trial and error" period of learning to track the drum. The image formed by the ocular lens was examined in intact fish made transparent by suppressing the formation of melanin. The eye was initially far sighted and gradually improved, so that by 72 hpf the image plane coincided with the photoreceptor layer. The extraocular muscles assumed their adult configuration between 66 and 72 hpf. Thus, the retinal image and functional extraocular muscles appeared nearly simultaneously with the onset of tracking eye movements and probably represent the last events in the construction of this behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Fertilization
  • Larva
  • Nystagmus, Optokinetic
  • Oculomotor Muscles / physiology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / ultrastructure
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reflex, Startle
  • Retina / embryology
  • Retina / growth & development
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Touch
  • Vision, Ocular*
  • Zebrafish / embryology
  • Zebrafish / physiology*