Purpose: The goal of these experiments was to identify the neurotransmitter in centrifugal axons of the macaque retina.
Methods: Macaca mulatta retinas and optic nerves were fixed overnight in carbodiimide and labeled with an antiserum to histamine with the use of an immunofluorescence technique.
Results: Several large histamine-immunoreactive axons ran from the optic nerve head to the peripheral retina, where they branched extensively and terminated in the inner plexiform layer, occasionally alongside retinal blood vessels. Other axons that emerged from the optic nerve head ran in the optic fiber layer to the central retina, circled the fovea, and then returned to the optic disc. These may be the source of histamine-immunoreactive axons that have been observed in central visual areas. No labeled cell bodies were present in the retina. Because perikarya in the posterior hypothalamus are the only known source of histamine in the primate central nervous system and because neurons there can be retrogradely labeled from the cut optic nerve, the histamine-immunoreactive axons must have originated there.
Conclusions: Centrifugal axons in the macaque retina are part of the system of axons containing histamine that originate in the hypothalamus and project throughout the brain. Because the activity of these neurons is highest during the morning, histamine might play a role in preparing the retina to operate in daylight. The contacts of histamine-immunoreactive axons with blood vessels suggest that histamine may also play a role in regulating the retinal microvasculature.