The distribution of ganglion cells has been studied in the retinas of four primates: the prosimian bushbaby, the New-World squirrel monkey, the Old-World crab-eating cynamolgous monkey, and the human. The sizes of ganglion cell somas were also measured at a number of retinal locations and compared with similar measurements in the cat retina to test for the presence in primates of retinal specializations such as the visual streak, and for gradients in retinal structure, such as that between temporal and nasal retina.
In all four primates, ganglion cell somas in peripheral retina ranged considerably in diameter (6–16 μm in the bushbaby, 8–22 μm in the squirrel monkey, 8–23 μm in the cynamolgous monkey, 8–26 μm in the human). It seems likely that the strong physiological correlates of soma size which have been described among cat retinal ganglion cells and among the relay cells of the macaque lateral geniculate nucleus are generally present in primates. In all four primates, evidence was also obtained of a visual streak specialization; the isodensity lines in ganglion cell density maps were horizontally elongated, and small-bodied ganglion cells were relatively more common in the region of the proposed streak than in other areas of peripheral retina. However, the visual streak seems less well developed than in the cat; among the four primate species examined it was best developed in the bushbaby, at least as assessed by the shape of the isodensity lines.
All four primates showed a clear foveal specialization, but this feature seemed least developed in the bushbaby. At the fovea, ganglion cells are smaller in soma size than in peripheral retina; they also seemed more uniform in size, although some distinctly larger cells persist in the human and bushbaby. Soma size measurements also provided evidence of a difference between nasal and temporal areas of peripheral retina comparable to that reported for the cat and other species.
Thus the primate retinas examined show features, such as the foveal specialization, which seem unique to them among mammals. They also show features, such as nasal-temporal differences in ganglion cell size, and (though weakly developed) a visual streak, which they have in common with other mammals with widely different phylogenetic histories.