Colour Receptors, and their Synaptic Connexions, in the Retina of a Cyprinid Fish

J. H. Scholes


Morphologically speaking, there are five kinds of cone cells in the retina of the rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus). But two of them, the principal elements of the double cones and the free principal cones, are probably functionally equivalent, while another, sparse, population of small (oblique) cones (which disappear in older fish), is unlikely to make a significant contribution to visual spectral sensitivity. Thus, principal and accessory cones (usually paired with one another), and single cones seem to be the three receptors which underlie the fish's trichromacy. Photographic densitometry of individual cone cells was used to provide evidence that accessory cones contain a green-absorbing photopigment and the single cones a blue one. Other arguments are given in support of those identifications, and they also strongly suggest that principal cones contain the red-absorbing pigment. Golgi-impregnated bipolar cells were examined electron-microscopically to determine the specific patterns of synaptic connexion they make with these different, anatomically identifiable, colour cones and with the retinal rods. Three principal arrangements were distinguished (see figure 69, page 100). (1) Rod bipolar cells comprise two distinct morphological types, both of which connect exclusively to principal (red) cones as well as to the rods within the outlines of their dendritic fields. (2) Selective cone bipolar cells, more delicate neurons with considerably wider dendritic fields, connect (according to type) to one or other of the different colour cone populations. Examples analysed were specific for the accessory (green) or for the single (blue) cones; no bipolar cells were found connected only to red cones. (3) Mixed cone bipolars have the smallest dendritic fields, and connect to combinations of cones (for example, red and green, or green and blue, but not red and blue). They also have synaptic input (usually relatively sparse) from the rods. Cells were encountered connecting to all three cone types, but they were only partially analysed, and are not described at length. The light microscopic morphology of these bipolar cell types consistently reflects the detailed pattern of connexion each makes with the different receptor populations (just as the morphology of the cones reflects the spectral properties of their photopigment). But while their synaptic connectivity is generally highly specific for cone type, they do occasionally make anomalous connexions with the 'wrong' receptors. There is a high degree of divergence (page 85) at the receptor-bipolar synapses, and the different kinds of cones each characteristically connect to different numbers of bipolar cells. Principal (red) cones, which are the most numerous, individually connect to more bipolars than cones of other types, whose characteristic synaptic divergence is likewise related to the frequency with which they occur in the retina. However, rods, which are much more numerous than cones, do not conform with this generalization. The selectivity with which the synaptic terminals of the different cones are connected together by their invaginating basal processes was also examined. These processes link neighbouring synaptic terminals of differently coloured cones: specifically, principal (red) cone basal processes invaginate accessory (green) cone pedicles, and vice versa. Single (blue) cone basal processes connect only to accessory cone pedicles, but that synaptic relation is not reciprocated. These synapses between the cones have important bearing upon interpretation of the bipolar cell connectivity patterns. In their light, the interaction between colour channels which the convergence of different cones onto the mixed cone bipolar dendrites mediates, seems to re-iterate a process already undertaken more peripherally. Likewise, whereas the anatomy of the selective cone bipolars appears designed to convey activity from the individual cone populations, the responses of the receptors they sample must already be influenced by activity in other colour channels.