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Recent biochemical and immunocytochemical evidence indicates that a population of circadian and reproductive rhythm-entraining photoreceptors lies in the basal diencephalon of iguanid lizards. Here, we report the results of correlated light and electron microscopy of opsin-immunoreactive cells in the basal brain, and we discuss their ultrastructural relationship to known photoreceptors. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-contacting bipolar neurons in the lizards Anolis carolinensis and Iguana iguana were immunolabeled with antisera generated against vertebrate retinal opsins and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). Within the brain, opsin-immunoreactive cells were found exclusively in the ependyma of the basal region of the lateral ventricles (adjacent to nucleus paraolfactorius/nucleus ventromedialis and neostriatum/paleostriatum). Cells in the same anatomical location and with the same morphology were labeled with anti-VIP antisera. These cells possessed a dendritic process that extended toward the lateral ventricle, ending in a bulbous terminal that protruded into the ventricle. Axonal processes travelled ventrally and caudally. The entire cell, including the axonal process, exhibited opsin-like and VIP-like immunoreactivity. By light microscopy, opsin-like immunostaining appeared punctate, with immunoreactivity greatest in the bulbous terminal. Opsin- and VIP-immunostained thick sections were resectioned, and individual cells observed by light microscopy were then characterized using electron microscopy. We found that all immunostained cells were morphologically similar and that they were morphologically distinct from neighboring nonimmunoreactive cells. CSF-contacting opsin- and VIP-immunoreactive cells lacked the membranous stacks characteristic of retinal photoreceptors but were ciliated and contained numerous large electron-dense vesicles. Multiple synaptic contacts were made on the soma and putative dendritic processes of opsin- and VIP-immunoreactive CSF-contacting neurons. Our results provide the first ultrastructural characterization of opsin-immunostained encephalic CSF-contacting neurons in a vertebrate animal, and they indicate that these putative photoreceptors share structural features with pineal photoreceptors and with certain invertebrate extraretinal photoreceptors, but they are morphologically and biochemically distinct from visual photoreceptors of the retina.

Original publication




Journal article


J Comp Neurol

Publication Date





575 - 594


Animals, Brain, Densitometry, Iguanas, Immunohistochemistry, Light, Lizards, Microscopy, Electron, Neurons, Perception, Photoreceptor Cells, Rod Opsins, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide