Distribution and development of short-wavelength cones differ between Macaca monkey and human fovea

J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jan 25;403(4):502-16.


Macaca monkey and humans have three cone types containing either long-wavelength (L), medium-wavelength (M), or short-wavelength (S)-specific opsin. The highest cone density is found in the fovea, which mediates high visual acuity. Most studies agree that the adult human fovea has a small S cone-free area, but data are conflicting concerning S-cone numbers in the adult Macaca monkey fovea, and little evidence exists for how either primate fovea develops its characteristic cone pattern. Single- and double-label in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry have been used to determine the pattern of foveal S cones in both the fetal and adult Macaca and human. Both labels find a clear difference at all ages between monkey and human. Adult humans have a distinct but variable central zone about 100 microm wide that lacks S cones and is surrounded by a ring in which the S-cone density is 8%. This S cone-free zone is detectable at fetal week 15.5 (Fwk15.5), shortly after S opsin is expressed, and is similar to the adult by Fwk20.5. Adult monkey foveas have an overall S-cone foveal density of 10%, with several areas lacking a few S cones that are not coincident with the area of highest cone density. A surrounding zone at 200-microm eccentricity has an S-cone density averaging 25%, but, by 800 microm, this has decreased to 11%. Fetal day 77-135 monkeys all have a distribution and density of foveal S cones similar to adults, although the high-density ring is not obvious in fetal retinas. Estimates of the numbers of S cones missing in the fetal human fovea range from 234 to 328, whereas no more than 40 are missing in the fetal monkey. These results show that, in these two trichromatic primates, S-cone distribution and the developmental mechanisms determining S-cone topography are markedly different from the time that S cones are first detected.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Fetus
  • Fovea Centralis / anatomy & histology*
  • Fovea Centralis / cytology
  • Fovea Centralis / growth & development
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Macaca fascicularis / growth & development*
  • Macaca nemestrina / growth & development*
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / cytology*
  • Rod Opsins / genetics
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Rod Opsins