Subcortical visual system of the African mole-rat Cryptomys anselli: to see or not to see?

Research paper by Pavel P Nemec, Hynek H Burda, Leo L Peichl

Indexed on: 17 Jul '04Published on: 17 Jul '04Published in: European Journal of Neuroscience


Abstract We studied the retinal projections, the distribution of cytochrome oxidase activity and the cyto- and myeloarchitecture of the subcortical visual system in the subterranean Ansell's mole-rat Cryptomys anselli. The optic nerve contained 1500 myelinated and a similar number of unmyelinated fibres. The retina projected to all the visual structures described in surface-dwelling sighted rodents. The suprachiasmatic nucleus was large and received bilateral retinal input. All other visual nuclei were reduced in size, were cytoarchitecturally poorly developed and received almost exclusively contralateral retinal projections. The dorsal and ventral lateral geniculate nuclei were moderately reduced and heavily innervated. The intergeniculate leaflet could be identified between these two nuclei. Pretectal nuclei were also relatively well-developed. The nucleus of the optic tract, the olivary pretectal nucleus, and the anterior and posterior pretectal nuclei were innervated by the retina. By contrast, the superficial, retinorecipient layers of the superior colliculus showed extreme reduction. The strata zonale, griseum superficiale and opticum were collapsed to a single layer 40 micro m thick. The accessory optic system was vestigial. These findings indicate that the functional subsystems involved in photoperiod perception, form and brightness discrimination, and movement analysis are anatomically rather well developed, whereas those involved in coordination of visuomotor reflexes are severely reduced. Thus, the visual system of C. anselli is much better developed than that of the blind mole-rat Spalax ehrenbergi. We suggest that Cryptomys anselli has retained basic visual capabilities.