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

journal contribution
posted on 2014-10-15, 00:00 authored by L M Vlahos, Ben Knott, K Valter, J M Hemmi
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.



Journal of comparative neurology






3423 - 3436


John Wiley & Sons


Hoboken, NJ





Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2014, John Wiley & Sons