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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1990 Jul;31(7):1398-404.

The eye of the blind mole rat, Spalax ehrenbergi. Rudiment with hidden function?

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


The rudimentary eyes of the mole rat (Spalax ehrenbergi) are located under the skin and do not respond to light stimuli. However, removal of the eyes disturbs photoperiod perception in these animals. To help clarify the possibly remaining function of the eyes in this species, the authors studied their development and ultrastructure. In the early embryos the presumptive eye regions--the epithelium, lens vesicle, and optic cup--appear initially normal. As development progresses, the iris-ciliary body complex originates prematurely from the margin of the optic cup and shows a very rapid and massive growth. This pigment-laden tissue mass remains attached to the corneal stroma, obliterates the anterior chamber, and prevents the formation of the corneal endothelium and Descemet's membrane. In the developing lens the elongation of the lens fibers leads to the formation of a rudimentary lens nucleus that becomes disorganized and vacuolated and eventually also becomes vascularized. The optic fissure fails to close, the eyes remain colobomatous, and the optic disc appears atrophic. In contrast, retinal histogenesis progresses relatively normally, resulting in structurally reduced but well-differentiated photoreceptor, neuronal, and ganglion cell layers in the adult eye. Immunohistochemically, the presence of opsin could be demonstrated in the photoreceptor cells. The latter features may indicate that these rudimentary eyes are still functioning in the complex neuroendocrine pathways mediating photoperiodicity.

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