Optics of cone photoreceptors in the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus)

David Wilby, Matthew Toomey, Peter Olsson, Rikard Frederiksen, Carter Cornwall, Ruth Oulton, Almut Kelber, Joseph Corbo, Nicholas Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
332 Downloads (Pure)


Vision is the primary sensory modality of birds, and its importance is evident in the sophistication of their visual systems. Coloured oil droplets in the cone photoreceptors represent an adaptation in the avian retina, acting as long-pass colour filters. However, we currently lack understanding of how the optical properties and morphology of component structures (e.g. oil droplet, mitochondrial ellipsoid and outer segment) of the cone photoreceptor influence the transmission of light into the outer segment and the ultimate effect they have on receptor sensitivity. In this study, we use data from microspectrophotometry, digital holographic microscopy and electron microscopy to inform electromagnetic models of avian cone photoreceptors to quantitatively investigate the integrated optical function of the cell. We find that pigmented oil droplets primarily function as spectral filters, not light collection devices, although the mitochondrial ellipsoid improves optical coupling between the inner segment and oil droplet. In contrast, unpigmented droplets found in violet-sensitive cones double sensitivity at its peak relative to other cone types. Oil droplets and ellipsoids both narrow the angular sensitivity of single cone photoreceptors, but not as strongly as those in human cones.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20150591
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number111
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2015


  • cone
  • photoreceptors
  • birds
  • colour vision
  • optics
  • FDTD (finite difference time domain method)


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    Sadaf R Alam (Manager), Steven A Chapman (Manager), Polly E Eccleston (Other), Simon H Atack (Other) & D A G Williams (Manager)

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