This review is concerned with the development of the mammalian retinogeniculate projection from the perspective of our studies on the hamster and to a lesser extent on the cat. In these, and other mammalian species, axons from the two eyes initially spread throughout the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) and thus completely overlap. Later they segregate, the axons from each eye coming to occupy discrete, non-overlapping territories within the dLGN. The process of segregation to establish the adult pattern coincides with the death of retinal ganglion cells projecting to inappropriate areas of the dLGN and with the loss, by degeneration or retraction, of the axons and/or axonal branches initially located within inappropriate territory of the dLGN. These events occur in the early postnatal period in hamsters, before the eyes have opened, and in cats and monkeys they occur entirely during embryonic life: thus, they do not depend on the onset of normal visual function. If one eye is removed before segregation has begun, the terminal fields of the crossed and uncrossed axons from the remaining eye do not segregate, suggesting that segregation in normal development may depend on some form of interaction between retinal ganglion cells from the two eyes. Attractive and/or repulsive influences exerted by the dLGN on retinogeniculate axons may also be involved in the formation of eye-specific territories. Experimental ultrastructural studies in hamster and cat show that the overlap phase is associated with the formation, by inappropriately located axons, of transient synapses similar to those made by retinogeniculate axons in appropriate parts of the dLGN. In the cat, the transient synapses are made by the axon trunk and by side branches of retinogeniculate axons with terminal arbors in appropriate parts of the nucleus; the transient synapses disappear as the side branches are shed or retracted during the segregation period. Because of good evidence that electrical activity of the retinogeniculate axons may be involved in binocular segregation of inputs, we suggest that the formation and elimination of transient synapses play a significant role in the development of the orderly retinogeniculate projections.

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