The submicroscopic organization of the retinal rods of the rabbit has been studied with high resolution electron microscopy in thin longitudinal and cross-sections. The outer rod segment consists of a stack of flattened sacs or cisternae each of them limited by a thin homogeneous membrane of about 30 A. The membrane of the rod sacs is attached to the surface membrane and is also in continuity with short tubular stalks of about 100 to 150 A which apparently end in relation with the connecting cilium.
The bundle of filaments that constitute the connection between the outer and the inner segments is described under the name of connecting cilium. This fibrous component has a structure that is very similar to that of the cilium. It shows 9 pairs of peripheral filaments of about 160 A in diameter, a matrix material, and a surface membrane. Very infrequently two central single filaments are observed. The connecting cilium has a typical basal body in the inner segment; its distal end penetrates the outer segment, where it establishes some structural relation to the rod sacs. The relationships and submicroscopic organization of the connecting cilium were studied in longitudinal and in cross-sections passing at different levels of the rod segments.
The inner rod segment shows two distinct regions: a distal and a proximal one. The distal region, corresponding to the ellipsoid of classical histology is mainly composed of longitudinally packed mitochondria. It also contains the basal body of the cilium, vacuoles of the endoplasmic reticulum, dense particles, and intervening matrix with very fine filaments.
In the proximal region of the inner segment the mitochondria are lacking and within the matrix it is possible to recognize elements of the Golgi complex, vacuoles of the endoplasmic reticulum, dense particles and numerous neuroprotofibrils of 160 to 200 A in diameter which collect and form a definite bundle at the exit of the rod fiber.
The interpretation of the connecting fibers as a portion of a cilium and of the outer segment as a differentiation of the distal part of a primitive cilium are discussed. The importance of the continuity of the surface membranes of the outer segment, connecting cilium, and inner segment is emphasized and its possible physiological role is discussed.