• cell lineage;
  • photoreceptor differentiation;
  • retina regeneration;
  • retina transplantation;
  • tissue engineering


Plasticity of photoreceptors and their integration into epithelial structures homologous to an outer nuclear layer (ONL), was investigated in embryonic chick retinal cell reaggregates by immunohistochemistry using an antibody specific for red plus green cones (RG-cones) and an antibody for rods. If reaggregates are raised in the presence of pigmented epithelium (RPE), completely reconstructed, stratified retinal spheres are produced, where all rods and cones are integrated into an outer laminar ONL, similar to a normal retina. In the absence of RPE, ‘rosetted’ spheres form which contain internal rosettes homologous to an ONL. Only a minor fraction of cones and rods of ‘rosetted’ spheres are located within rosettes, while a larger fraction is diffusely displaced in nonorganized areas, thus, not contributing to an ONL-like epithelium. In both types of spheres, the total percentage of RG-cones was similar to the in vivo retina, indicating that expression of cones is autonomous. Following cones, after about one day, rods developed only within already existing RG-cone clusters. Thereby, the ratio of rods to RG-cones increases as the tissue organization decreases: for stratified spheres this ratio is, 0.50 (1 rod/2 cones; similar to mature retina); for rosettes, 0.74 (3 rods/4 cones) and for nonorganized areas, 1.09 (1 rod/1 cone) – a higher ratio under our conditions has never been detected. Thus, rod expression depends strictly on the presence of nearby cones; their relative numbers are distinctively adjusted according to the cytoarchitecture of the tissue environment. The biomedical implications of these findings are briefly discussed.