We report here that cells present in embryonic chick retinal monolayer cultures express differentiated properties characteristic of chick cones developing in vivo. Cell suspensions from 8-d chick embryo retina (a stage when photoreceptor differentiation has not yet started) were cultured for up to 7 d in low density, glial-free monolayers. Under these conditions, monopolar cells represent approximately 40% of the total number of process-bearing neurons. After 6 d in vitro, most of these monopolar cells showed morphological features reminiscent of developing chick cones. These features could be detected with phase-contrast microscopy, lectin cytochemistry, and transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Characteristic cone traits expressed by cultured monopolar cells included the following: (a) a highly polarized organization; (b) a single, short, usually unbranched neurite; (c) the polarized position of the nucleus close to the origin of the neurite; (d) characteristic cone inner segment features such as abundant free ribosomes, a polarized Golgi apparatus, a cluster of mitochondria distal to the nucleus, a big, membrane-bound, pigment-containing vacuole reminiscent of the "lipid droplet" characteristic of chick cones, and at least in some cases, a well-developed paraboloid; (e) the presence of a complex of apical differentiations including abundant microvilli and in some cases also a cilium-like process; and (f) the staining of the apical region of the cell with peanut lectin, which has been shown to be selective for chick embryo cones (Blanks, J.C., and L.V. Johnson, 1983, J. Comp. Neurol., 221:31-41; and Blanks, J.C., and L.V. Johnson, 1984, Invest. Ophthalmol. Visual Sci., 25:546-557). This pattern of differentiation achieved by 8-d chick retina cells after 6 d in vitro is similar to that shown by 14-d-old chick embryo cones in vivo. Outer segments are not present at this stage of development either in vivo or in vitro. This experimental system is now being used to search for cellular and molecular signals controlling survival and differentiation of cone cells.

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