A fibrous membrane suspends the multifocal lens in the eyes of lampreys and African lungfishes.

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The sharpness and thus information content of the retinal image in the eye depends on the optical quality of the lens and its accurate positioning in the eye. Multifocal lenses create well-focused color images and are present in the eyes of all vertebrate groups studied to date (mammals, reptiles including birds, amphibians, and ray-finned fishes) and occur even in lampreys, i.e., the most basal vertebrates with well-developed eyes. Results from photoretinoscopy obtained in this study indicate that the Dipnoi (lungfishes), i.e., the closest piscine relatives to tetrapods, also possess multifocal lenses. Suspension of the lens is complex and sophisticated in teleosts (bony fishes) and tetrapods. We studied lens suspension using light and electron microscopy in one species of lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) and two species of African lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus aethiopicus and Protopterus annectens annectens). A fibrous and highly transparent membrane suspends the lens in both of these phylogenetically widely separated vertebrate groups. The membrane attaches to the lens approximately along the lens equator, from where it extends to the ora retinalis. The material forming the membrane is similar in ultrastructure to microfibrils in the zonule fibers of tetrapods. The membrane, possibly in conjunction with the cornea, iris, and vitreous body, seems suitable for keeping the lens in the correct position for well-focused imaging. Suspension of the lens by a multitude of zonule fibers in tetrapods may have evolved from a suspensory membrane similar to that in extant African lungfishes, a structure that seems to have appeared first in the lamprey-like ancestors of allextant vertebrates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)980-989
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology


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