Development of the eye in the North American opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

P. G. McMenamin, W. J. Krause

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Marsupials are unique models for developmental biology-oriented research because of the immature state of their development at birth. The North American opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has several advantages over other marsupials, including large litter size, short prenatal period (12.5 d), an extended postnatal period while accessible in the pouch, and its ability to reproduce reliably in captivity. Studies of ocular development in this species have not been reported previously. The aim of the present investigation was therefore to document the major landmarks in prenatal and postnatal development of the cornea, lens, iris, ciliary body and retina. Fifteen embryos (10.5, 10.7 and 11 d postconception and 6 h after birth [12 d]) were studied by paraffin histology. Eyes of pouch young at 8 d, 2, 6, 9 and 13 wk were studied by transmission electron microscopy and light microscopy. The study revealed a similar pattern of ocular development in Didelphis to other metatherian and eutherian mammals. Differentiation of the eye is particularly rapid in the 2 d before birth. For example, although the lens vesicle separates from the surface ectoderm on d 10, by birth (2.5 d later) a primitive cornea and fused eyelids have formed, presumably to protect the eye during migration to the pouch. At birth the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) contains melanin; however, the inner layer of the optic cup does not differentiate into an inner and outer neuroblastic layer until 8 d after birth. Around 6 wk after birth most components of the adult eye are identifiable, albeit in an immature form. These include the corneal layers, the iris (including the sphincter pupillae), ciliary processes, RPE tapetum, and a fully laminated retina with immature photoreceptors. A knowledge of the timing of major events in eye development in Didelphis and their comparison with equivalent events in human eye development should allow the appropriate choice of stages for any future experimental studies utilising this marsupial species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-358
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1993
Externally publishedYes

Cite this