Degenerating cells may be observed with light microscopy in the hamster superior colliculus during early postnatal development. In the superficial gray layer and stratum opticum, 1.8 degenerating cells for each 1,000 live cells could be seen on the first postnatal day. This rate increased to 5.6 degenerating cells per 1,000 live cells by postnatal day 5, and declined to 2.6 per 1,000 live cells by postnatal day 8. The rate of cell degeneration was consistently elevated at the medial, lateral, and caudal margins of the superficial gray layer relative to the center. In the intermediate and deep gray layers, the rate of cell death was consistently higher, starting at three degenerating cells per 1,000 on the first postnatal day, increasing to 15 per 1,000 on postnatal day 5, and declining to 4.7 per 1,000 by postnatal day 8. In contrast to the superficial gray layer, the number of degenerating cells in the central versus peripheral segments of the intermediate and deep gray layers was quite similar. Although the rate of observable degeneration is low, the likely rapid clearance of degenerating cell debris indicates a substantial loss of cells from the midbrain tectum in early development. The time course of observable degeneration, the amount, and the distribution of degenerating cells are quite similar in the tectum, and its major innervating structure, the retina.
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