Photoreceptor topography and spectral sensitivity in the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula)

Lisa M. Vlahos*, Ben Knott, Krisztina Valter, Jan M. Hemmi

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Marsupials are believed to be the only non-primate mammals with both trichromatic and dichromatic color vision. The diversity of color vision systems present in marsupials remains mostly unexplored. Marsupials occupy a diverse range of habitats, which may have led to considerable variation in the presence, density, distribution, and spectral sensitivity of retinal photoreceptors. In this study we analyzed the distribution of photoreceptors in the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). Immunohistochemistry in wholemounts revealed three cone subpopulations recognized within two spectrally distinct cone classes. Long-wavelength sensitive (LWS) single cones were the largest cone subgroup (67-86%), and formed a weak horizontal visual streak (peak density 2,106±435/mm2) across the central retina. LWS double cones were strongly concentrated ventrally (569±66/mm2), and created a "negative" visual streak (134±45/mm2) in the central retina. The strong regionalization between LWS cone topographies suggests differing visual functions. Short-wavelength sensitive (SWS) cones were present in much lower densities (3-10%), mostly located ventrally (179±101/mm2). A minority population of cones (0-2.4%) remained unlabeled by both SWS- and LWS-specific antibodies, and may represent another cone population. Microspectrophotometry of LWS cone and rod visual pigments shows peak spectral sensitivities at 544 nm and 500 nm, respectively. Cone to ganglion cell convergences remain low and constant across the retina, thereby maintaining good visual acuity, but poor contrast sensitivity during photopic vision. Given that brushtail possums are so strongly nocturnal, we hypothesize that their acuity is set by the scotopic visual system, and have minimized the number of cones necessary to serve the ganglion cells for photopic vision.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3423-3436
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
    Issue number15
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2014


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