Ontogeny in the visual system of nile tilapia

Shai Sabbah*, Jonathan Hui, Frances E. Hauser, William A. Nelson, Craig W. Hawryshyn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Retinal neurogenesis in fish facilitates cellular rearrangement throughout ontogeny, potentially allowing for optimization of the visual system to shifts in habitat and behaviour. To test this possibility, we studied the developmental trajectory of the photopic visual process in the Nile tilapia. We examined ontogenetic changes in lens transmission, photoreceptor sensitivity and postreceptoral sensitivity, and used these to estimate changes in cone pigment frequency and retinal circuitry. We observed an ontogenetic decrease in ultraviolet (UV) photoreceptor sensitivity, which resulted from a reduction in the SWS1 cone pigment frequency, and was associated with a reduction in lens transmission at UV wavelengths. Additionally, post-receptoral sensitivity to both UV and long wavelengths decreased with age, probably reflecting changes in photoreceptor sensitivity and retinal circuitry. This novel remodelling of retinal circuitry occurred following maturation of the visual system but prior to reaching adulthood, and thus may facilitate optimization of the visual system to the changing sensory demands. Interestingly, the changes in post-receptoral sensitivity to long wavelengths could not be predicted by the changes observed in lens transmission, cone pigment frequency or photoreceptor sensitivity. This finding emphasizes the importance of considering knowledge of visual sensitivity and retinal processing when studying visual adaptations and attempting to relate visual function to the natural environment. This study advances our understanding of ontogeny in visual systems and demonstrates that the association between different elements of the visual process can be explored effectively by examining visual function throughout ontogeny.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2684-2695
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cichlids
  • Development
  • Fish
  • Photoreceptor
  • Retina
  • Vision


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