Fragments of freshly obtained retinas of several vertebrate species were studied by refractometry, with reference to the structure of the rods and cones. The findings allowed a reassessment of previous descriptions based mainly on fixed material. The refractometric method was used also to measure the refractice indices and to calculate the concentrations of solids and water in the various cell segments. The main quantitative data were confirmed by interference microscopy.
When examined by the method of refractometry the outer segments of freshly prepared retinal rods appear homogeneous. Within a few minutes a single eccentric longitudinal fiber appears, and transverse striations may develop. These changes are attributed to imbibition of water and swelling in structures normally too small for detection by light microscopy. The central "core" of outer segments and the chromophobic disc between outer and inner segments appear to be artifacts resulting from shrinkage during dehydration. The fresh outer segments of cones, and the inner segments of rods and cones also are described and illustrated.
The volumes, refractive indices, concentrations of solids, and wet and dry weights of various segments of the photoreceptor cells were tabulated. Rod outer segments of the different species vary more than 100-fold in volume and mass but all have concentrations of solids of 40 to 43 per cent. Cone outer segments contain only about 30 per cent solids. The myoids, paraboloids, and ellipsoids of the inner segments likewise have characteristic refractive indices and concentrations of solids.
Some of the limitations and particular virtues of refractometry as a method for quantitative analysis of living cells are discussed in comparison with more conventional biochemical techniques. Also the shapes and refractive indices of the various segments of photoreceptor cells are considered in relation to the absorption and transmission of light. The Stiles-Crawford effect can be accounted for on the basis of the structure of cone cells.