PLoS ONE (2014-01-01)

Alouatta trichromatic color vision: cone spectra and physiological responses studied with microspectrophotometry and single unit retinal electrophysiology.

  • Luiz Carlos L Silveira,
  • Cézar A Saito,
  • Manoel da Silva Filho,
  • Jan Kremers,
  • James K Bowmaker,
  • Barry B Lee

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 11
p. e113321


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The howler monkeys (Alouatta sp.) are the only New World primates to exhibit routine trichromacy. Both males and females have three cone photopigments. However, in contrast to Old World monkeys, Alouatta has a locus control region upstream of each opsin gene on the X-chromosome and this might influence the retinal organization underlying its color vision. Post-mortem microspectrophotometry (MSP) was performed on the retinae of two male Alouatta to obtain rod and cone spectral sensitivities. The MSP data were consistent with only a single opsin being expressed in each cone and electrophysiological data were consistent with this primate expressing full trichromacy. To study the physiological organization of the retina underlying Alouatta trichromacy, we recorded from retinal ganglion cells of the same animals used for MSP measurements with a variety of achromatic and chromatic stimulus protocols. We found MC cells and PC cells in the Alouatta retina with similar properties to those previously found in the retina of other trichromatic primates. MC cells showed strong phasic responses to luminance changes and little response to chromatic pulses. PC cells showed strong tonic response to chromatic changes and small tonic response to luminance changes. Responses to other stimulus protocols (flicker photometry; changing the relative phase of red and green modulated lights; temporal modulation transfer functions) were also similar to those recorded in other trichromatic primates. MC cells also showed a pronounced frequency double response to chromatic modulation, and with luminance modulation response saturation accompanied by a phase advance between 10-20 Hz, characteristic of a contrast gain mechanism. This indicates a very similar retinal organization to Old-World monkeys. Cone-specific opsin expression in the presence of a locus control region for each opsin may call into question the hypothesis that this region exclusively controls opsin expression.