Relay cell classes in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the cat and the effects of visual deprivation

Simon LeVay*, David Ferster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


This study presents evidence that the X‐ and Y‐ cells described physiologically in the A laminae of the cat's dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) are two morphologically distinct cell types recognizable in Golgi preparations. It is shown firstly that the three cell types seen in Golgi preparations of the A laminae (large and medium‐sized principal cells and small interneurons–types 1,2 and 3 in the classification of Guillery, 1966) may be identified in 1‐μm Epon sections of osmicated material. While cell‐diameter histograms prepared from serial 1‐μm sections show a unimodal distribution of cell sizes, three populations can be distinguished if attention is paid to the presence or absence of large cytoplasmic inclusions (laminar bodies). These three populations consist of large cells lacking laminar bodies (Class I), medium‐sized cells possessing laminar bodies (Class II) and small cells lacking them (Class III). That these three classes correspond to the three morphological types has been shown by (i) size comparisons, and (ii) direct demonstration of laminar bodies in the Golgi‐impregnated cell bodies of Guillery's type 2 cells. Histograms prepared in this way for samples taken at various positions in the LGN show that the numbers of class II cells decline from the representation of the area centralis to the monocular segment. This decline is compensated by a corresponding rise in the numbers of class I cells. This pattern of distribution is similar to the physiologically observed distribution of X‐ and Y‐cells, indicating that X‐cells are likely to be class II cells and Y‐cells class I cells. The cortical projections of the various cell types have been examined by the horseradish peroxidase method. Class II cells project to area 17 only. Most class I cells also project to area 17 only, but a few very large class I cells project to area 18. From our results,;it appears that very few if any cells in the A laminae have branching axons supplying both 17 and 18. The class III cells do not project to the visual cortex, a finding consistent with their identification as interneurons. Class I and II cells are also found in lamina C and in the MIN. In both these regions there is a predominance of very large class I cells, which project to area 18. Laminae C1‐C3 contain small cells lacking laminar bodies. These cells may project to both areas 17 and 18 with branching axons. They are likely to correspond to Guillery's type 4 cells (small relay cells confined to the C laminae) and to the physsiologically described W‐cells. Long‐term monocular deprivation causes cells shrinkage which is much more severe for class I than for class IIcells. There is in addition a decrease in the relative numbers of class I cells. This decrease is found in binocular deprivation also. These observations provide an anatomical basis for the reported loss of Y‐cells from deprived laminae of the LGN. It is suggested that the effects of deprivation on Y‐cells may be accounted for in terms of competition for synaptic space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-584
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 1977

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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