• albino;
  • apoptosis;
  • mouse;
  • photoreceptor;
  • visual development


Many factors probably regulate the process of natural cell death during development. It is present in both the early undifferentiated retina and later following differentiation. Melanin production plays a role in regulating retinal development and when it is absent, cell proliferation and death are enhanced. Here we examine the effects of hyperoxia on this process, as oxygen has been shown to reduce cell death among differentiated photoreceptors late in development. However, in this study we examine its effects much earlier in pigmented and albino pigmentation phenotypes, when most cells are still actively dividing and are not committed to a specific fate. Newborn mice were exposed to high oxygen levels for 24 h and then returned to normal air for varying periods and their retinae examined. Hyperoxia had a dramatic effect on the number of dying cells, reducing them by almost 60% in pigmented animals and by over 80% in albinos. Following the return to normal air there was a gradual increase in their number over 360 min back to normal levels in pigmented mice; however, in albinos there was a complete rebound in levels of cell death within 40 min, reflecting the increased metabolic stress present in albino retinae due to their abnormal levels of proliferation. These results highlight the important role played by oxygen during early natural cell death in the retina and reveal the different developmental conditions present in the retinae of the two pigmentation phenotypes examined.