The number, morphology, and distribution of retinal ganglion cells and optic axons in the Australian lungfishNeoceratodus forsteri(Krefft 1870) Academic Article uri icon


  • Australian lungfishNeoceratodus forsterimay be the closest living relative to the first tetrapods and yet little is known about their retinal ganglion cells. This study reveals that lungfish possess a heterogeneous population of ganglion cells distributed in a horizontal streak across the retinal meridian, which is formed early in development and maintained through to adult stages. The number and complement of both ganglion cells and a population of putative amacrine cells within the ganglion cell layer are examined using retrograde labelling from the optic nerve and transmission electron-microscopic analysis of axons within the optic nerve. At least four types of retinal ganglion cells are present and lie predominantly within a thin ganglion cell layer, although two subpopulations are identified, one within the inner plexiform and the other within the inner nuclear layer. A subpopulation of retinal ganglion cells comprising up to 7% of the total population are significantly larger (>400 μm2) and are characterized as giant or alpha-like cells. Up to 44% of cells within the retinal ganglion cell layer represent a population of presumed amacrine cells. The optic nerve is heavily fasciculated and the proportion of myelinated axons increases with body length from 17% in subadults to 74% in adults. Spatial resolving power, based on ganglion cell spacing, is low (1.6–1.9 cycles deg−1,n= 2) and does not significantly increase with growth. This represents the first detailed study of retinal ganglion cells in sarcopterygian fish, and reveals that, despite variation amongst animal groups, trends in ganglion cell density distribution and characteristics of cell types were defined early in vertebrate evolution.

publication date

  • March 2006