• melanin;
  • retinal pigment epithelium;
  • retinal ganglion cells;
  • binocular vision


Albino mammals lacking melanin in the embryonic retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) have abnormal retinal decussation patterns at the optic chiasm: their uncrossed projections are smaller and arise from fewer, more peripheral temporal retinal ganglion cells than in con-specific wild-types. To determine whether these abnormalities generalize to nonmammalian mutants, we used anterograde and retrograde labeling methods to compare the distribution of retinal projections to the thalamus in adult normal and albino Xenopus frogs. In both pigmentation phenotypes, crossed retinal terminations covered ∼80% of the neuropil of Bellonci (nB) and corpus geniculatum thalamicum (cgt) and uncrossed inputs occupied, respectively, approximately 75% and 25% of these two main visual centers. In the wild-type frogs and in the albinos, ganglion cells giving rise to the crossed projections were distributed throughout the retina, whereas ipsilaterally projecting cells were confined to a specific ventrotemporal retinal division. This region comprised ∼40% of the total retinal area, was bordered by a well-defined line of decussation, and contained an average of ∼3,000 ipsilaterally projecting ganglion cells of equivalent soma sizes in the two pigmentation phenotypes. In summary, we found no evidence of chiasmatic misrouting in the uncrossed retinothalamic projections of albino Xenopus, even though these pathways are substantial in normal frogs and share features in common with mammalian retinogeniculate projections. Our findings suggest that congenital RPE melanin deficiency results in major defects in the development of the retina and its central projections only in mammals. J. Comp. Neurol. 458:425–439, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.