Spatial Resolution of an Eye Containing a Grouped Retina: Ganglion Cell Morphology and Tectal Physiology in the Weakly Electric Fish Gnathonemus petersii


Correspondence to: Jacob Engelmann, Bielefeld University, Faculty of Biology, AG Active Sensing, Universitätsstrasse 25, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany. E-mail:


The retina of the weakly electric fish Gnathonemus petersii is a so-called grouped retina where photoreceptors are bundled. These bundles are regarded as functional units and this type of retinal specialization is uniquely found in teleosts. To understand how this anatomical organization influences visual information processing we investigated the morphology and distribution of retinal ganglion cells (GCs) and the response properties of retinal afferents terminating in the major retinorecipient area, the optic tectum. GCs were classified based on their dendritic morphology (dendritic field diameters <90–100 μm: narrow-field GCs; 110–280 μm: widefield GCs; >280 μm: giant GCs). Within these classes subtypes were distinguished based on the ramification patterns of the dendrites in the sublaminae of the inner plexiform layer. Properties of presumed optic nerve terminals were investigated in the optic tectum using extracellular recordings. Physiological classes could be observed based on their response to visual stimuli (on; off; on-off, and fast units). Receptive field sizes and spatiotemporal properties were classified and the topographical representation of the visual space was mapped in the tectum. Gratings of low spatial frequencies were best responded to and followed up to high temporal frequencies (>30 Hz). Most of the recorded units were directionally selective. No evidence of distorted topographies in the tectum was found, i.e., no overrepresentation of the retina was seen in the tectum opticum. The grouped retina of G. petersii seems to be optimized for the detection of large, fast objects in an environment of low optical quality. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:4075–4093, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.