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Photoreceptors, visual pigments, and ellipsosomes in the killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus: A microspectrophotometric and histological study



The photoreceptor layer of F. heteroclitus was examined by light and electron microscopy. We identified four cone visual pigments with maximum absorbance (λmax) in the UV (363 nm), short (400 nm), middle (463 nm), and long (563 nm) wavelength regions of the spectrum and a rod visual pigment that peaked in the middle wavelengths (503 nm). Electron-dense bodies, ellipsosomes and pseudoellipsosomes, were present in the distal ellipsoids of long/middle (L/M) and long/long (L/L) wavelength double cones and in single short wavelength (S) cones, respectively. The light absorption of ellipsosomes indicated the presence of reduced cytochrome-c with the highest optical densities found in the M members of L/M double cones. By contrast, S cones contained pseudo-ellipsosomes which had very low optical density. UV cones were present everywhere as part of square or row mosaics in the retina of F. heteroclitus. Cone packing was on average higher for locations in the upper half of the retina while the highest cone density was found in the centro-ventral retina. An analysis of potential quantum catches for each cone type as a function of retinal sector and underwater irradiance characteristics revealed higher overall quantum catches for cones in the upper retina when the light field was assumed homogeneous, and higher quantum catches for cones in the lower retina when downwelling, horizontal, and upwelling irradiances were considered separately. At dusk, quantum catch was highest for M cones and the contribution to the overall retinal quantum catch by UV and S cones was much greater than during daylight hours. We propose that UV and S cones may be used to detect targets of interest against the background irradiance sensed by double cones.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Iñigo Novales Flamarique, New College of the University of South Florida, Division of Natural Sciences, 5700 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243-2197, USA. E-mails:;
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Visual Neuroscience
  • ISSN: 0952-5238
  • EISSN: 1469-8714
  • URL: /core/journals/visual-neuroscience
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