Studies of the projection from the vertebrate retina have contributed significantly to current concepts of neural development. The zebrafish has recently become a favored system for the study of development in general and neural development in particular. Although the development of both the optic nerve and the retinotectal projection of the zebrafish has been described, the retinofugal projection in its entirety has not. This paper describes it and also addresses the issue of projectional exuberance: i. e., transient projections to targets that are not innervated in the adult.
The retinofugal projection of embryonic and larval zebrafish (32 hours to 7 days post-fertilization) was labeled by intraocular injection of DiI (1,1′-dioctadecyl-3,3,3′,3′, tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate) and then studied in wholemounts and sections.
The first optic axons crossed the chiasm at 32 hours post-fertilization and projected in a straight line to reach the tectum at about 44 hours. At 48 hours, a few optic axons deviated along either the tract of the posterior commissure or the tract of the postoptic commissure. By 72 hours (about the time of hatching) optic axons arborized in ten distinct regions, termed arborization fields. At 6–7 days post-fertilization, the same ten arborization fields (nine contralateral, one bilater) were evident. Most of the arborization fields were located in the superficial neuropil and were not associated with morphologically identifiable clusters of somata. On the basis of various landmarks, the ten arborization fields are identified as precursors of retinorecipient nuclei previously described in other adult cypriniform fishes.
The development was characterized by the nearly complete absence of any transient projections. Thus, the idea that axonal outgrowth is initially exuberant and trimmed back later is not supported by these results. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.