The lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of every primate examined contains a set of small relay cells in addition to separate sets of magnocellular and parvocellular relay cells. These small cells receive a direct retinal projection, and an indirect retinal projection via the superior colliculus (SC). Receptive-field analyses of the small LGN cells in the bush baby, a lorisiform primate, indicate that this cell class is composed of subclasses, similar in physiology to cat W cells. In an effort to identify some of these subclasses, we have examined the morphological features of retinal and collicular axonal arbors that end on small W-like cells in the LGN of the bush baby, Galago crassicaudatus. Small cells in this species are found in a prominent pair of koniocellular (K) layers as well as the interlaminar zones (ILZs).
Retinal arbors were examined by bulk iontophoretic injection of horseradish peroxidase into the optic tract. Collicular arbors were filled via iontophoretic injection of biocytin into the superficial layers of the SC. Forty-eight axon arbors were completely reconstructed and quantitatively evaluated. Our findings show that retinal and collicular axon terminals differ in morphology on the basis of a number of criteria. Our analyses also suggest that retinal axons may have a stronger influence on K cells and collicular axons have a stronger influence on ILZ cells. The ramifications of these findings are provocative since these small LGN cells are known to project directly to the cytochrome-oxidase (CO) blobs within striate cortex. This relationship suggests that CO blob cells receive complex visual input not only from magnocellular and parvocellular LGN cells, but also from small cell pathways that are differentially influenced by retinal and collicular cells.