• development;
  • plasticity;
  • visual system;
  • lesions


We examined the number, spatial distribution, and size of ganglion cells in the retinae of normal Syrian hamsters and hamsters with retinal projections to the auditory and somatosensory nuclei of the thalamus, induced by neonatal surgery. As revealed by retrograde filling with horseradish peroxidase, there are about 64,600 contralaterally projecting retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and 1,700 ipsilaterally projecting RGCs in the retinae of normal adult hamsters. Contralaterally projecting RGCs are distributed throughout the retina and have two local density peaks located within a central streak of high RGC density that is oriented approximately along the nasal-temporal axis. RGC density falls above and below the central streak, with a steeper gradient towards the upper retina. Ipsilaterally projecting RGCs are diffusely distributed within a crescent at the inferotemporal retinal periphery and are most dense at the internal border of the crescent. The soma diameter of contralaterally projecting RGCs ranges from 6 to 25 μm; the diameter distribution is unimodal, with a peak in the 10–13 μm range and is skewed toward smaller values, with an elongated tail towards higher values. Contralaterally projecting RGCs tend to be smaller in regions of higher density. Ipsilaterally projecting RGCs tend to be larger than contralaterally projecting RGCs both globally and within the temporal crescent, and their size distributions tend to be less regular and less well related to local density.

The retinae of neonatally operated hamsters with novel retinal projections to the auditory and somatosensory systems contain about one-fourth the normal number of contralaterally projecting RGCs, whose relative density distribution is approximately normal despite the drastic reduction of absolute RGC density. The range and distribution of RGC soma diameters are similar in normal and neonatally operated hamsters, and, in operated as in normal hamsters, contralaterally projecting RGC somata tend to be smaller in regions of higher density.

Our results in normal hamsters suggest a role for intraretinal mechanisms in the determination of RGC size. Our findings in neonatally operated hamsters suggest that, despite the reduced number of RGCs in these animals, the same types of RGCs are found in the retinae of normal and neonatally operated hamsters. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.