Journal of Neuroscience vol:25 issue:31 pages:7232-7237
Topographic representation of visual fields from the retina to the brain is a central feature of vision. The development of retinotopic maps has been studied extensively in model organisms and is thought to be controlled in part by molecular labels, including ephrin/Eph axon guidance molecules, displayed in complementary gradients across the retina and its targeting areas. The visual system in these organisms is primarily monocular, with each retina mapping topographically to its contralateral target. In contrast, mechanisms of retinal mapping in binocular species such as primates, characterized by the congruent, aligned mapping of both retinas onto the same brain target, remain completely unknown. Here, we show that the distribution of ephrin/Eph genes in the human developing visual system is fundamentally different from what is known in model organisms. In the human embryonic retina, EphA receptors are displayed along two gradients, sloping down from the center of the retina to its periphery. The EphB1 receptor, which controls the ipsilateral routing of retinal axons in the mouse, is expressed throughout the human temporal retina in coordination with the changes in EphA gene expression. In the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus, ephrin-A/EphAs are displayed along complementary retinotopic gradients. Our data point to an evolutionary model in which the coordinated divergence of the distribution of the receptors controlling retinal guidance and retinal mapping enabled the emergence of a fully binocular system. They also indicate that ephrin/Eph signaling plays a potentially major role in the development of neuronal connectivity in humans.