Because cone outer segments (COS) are now known to be continually renewed, I reexamined COS morphogenesis in retinas of Xenopus tadpoles (prepared by standard histologic techniques and viewed by light and electron microscopy) to clarify how COS incorporate new membrane. I observed that developing COS underwent an unexpected shape change: they were always conical, but their taper (width divided by length) continually decreased. Ultrastructural examination revealed that many of the membrane foldings within distal COS were partial or incomplete, not extending across the full COS width but ending at variable distances from the ciliary side. Because these partial folds represented infoldings of the plasma membrane of an existing lamella, and they occurred at all COS levels except the base, I have termed them distal invaginations (DI). The completion of each DI increased COS length by one lamella but caused no noticeable change in local COS width; thus the formation of many DI throughout the distal COS presumably resulted in the observed decrease in overall COS taper. Based on these findings, I suggest that DI indicate growing membrane fronts and may represent sites where newly synthesized membrane is incorporated into COS. Because DI occur in developing and adult COS of various vertebrate species, I propose that DI formation plays an important role in the generation of COS taper during development and the remodeling of COS taper in mature cones after tip shedding.

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