Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 225, Issue 1, pp 305–320 | Cite as

Pupillary light reflex circuits in the Macaque Monkey: the olivary pretectal nucleus

  • Paul J. MayEmail author
  • Susan Warren
Original Article


The olivary pretectal nucleus is the first central connection in the pupillary light reflex pathway, the circuit that adjusts the diameter of the pupil in response to ambient light levels. This study investigated aspects of the morphology and connectivity of the olivary pretectal nucleus in macaque monkeys by use of anterograde and retrograde tracers. Within the pretectum, the vast majority of neurons projecting to the preganglionic Edinger–Westphal nucleus were found within the olivary pretectal nucleus. Most of these neurons had somata located at the periphery of the nucleus and their heavily branched dendrites extended into the core of the nucleus. Retinal terminals were concentrated within the borders of the olivary pretectal nucleus. Ultrastructural examination of these terminals showed that they had clear spherical vesicles, occasional dense-core vesicles, and made asymmetric synaptic contacts. Retrogradely labeled cells projecting to the preganglionic Edinger–Westphal nucleus displayed relatively few somatic contacts. Double labeling indicated that these neurons receive direct retinal input. The concentration of retinal terminals within the nucleus and the extensive dendritic trees of the olivary projection cells provide a substrate for very large receptive fields. In some species, pretectal commissural connections are a substrate for balancing the direct and consensual pupillary responses to produce pupils of equal size. In the macaque, there was little evidence for such a commissural projection based on either anterograde or retrograde tracing. This may be due to the fact that each macaque retina provides nearly equal density projections to the ipsilateral and contralateral olivary pretectal nucleus.


Retinal projections Pupil Autonomic Luminance Midbrain 



Axon terminal


Labeled axon terminal


Biotinylated dextran amine


Caudal central subdivision


Central gray




Labeled dendrite


Dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus


Dorsal raphe


Preganglionic Edinger-Westphal nucleus


Inferior colliculus


Oculomotor nucleus


Interstitial nucleus of Cajal


Trochlear nucleus


Medial dorsal nucleus


Medial geniculate nucleus


Medial longitudinal fasciculus


Medial pretectal nucleus


Midbrain reticular formation


Nucleus of the optic tract


Nucleus of the posterior commissure


Olivary pretectal nucleus




Periaqueductal gray


Posterior commissure


Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin


Pontine reticular formation


Posterior pretectal nucleus






Intermediate gray layer


Deep gray layer


Substantia nigra


Supraoculomotor area


Labeled soma


Wheat germ agglutinin conjugated horseradish peroxidase



We would like to thank Ms. Malinda Danielson, Jinrong Wei, and Olga Golanov for their technical assistance with respect to surgeries and processing of the brains, as well as preparation of the figures. We are also indebted to Mr. Glen Hoskins for processing and cutting tissue for electron microscopy.

Author contributions

PJM helped to: design the experiments, carry out the experiments, analyze the data, write the manuscript, and edit the manuscript. SW helped to: carry out the experiments, analyze the data, and edit the manuscript.


Portions of the material presented here were supported by funds from National Institute of Health grants: EY07166 to Paul J. May, EY014263 to Paul J. May, Paul D.R. Gamlin, and Susan Warren, and National Science Foundation Grant IBN-0130954 to Martha Bickford and Paul J. May.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Neither author has any perceived or real conflicts of interest with respect to this submission.

Ethical use of animals statement

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the studies were conducted. Specifically, they were undertaken under protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Mississippi Medical Center (USDA Animal Welfare Assurance # D16-00174).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical SciencesUniversity of Mississippi Medical CenterJacksonUSA
  2. 2.Department of OphthalmologyUniversity of Mississippi Medical CenterJacksonUSA
  3. 3.Department of NeurologyUniversity of Mississippi Medical CenterJacksonUSA

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