Department of Cell Biology and Histology, University of the Basque Country, Leioa, Vizcaya, Spain
Programmed cell death occurs naturally, as a physiological process, during the embryonic development of multicellular organisms. In the retina, which belongs to the central nervous system, at least two phases of cell death have been reported to occur during development. An early phase takes place concomitant with the processes of neurogenesis, cell migration and cell differentiation. A later phase affecting mainly neurons occurs when connections are established and synapses are formed, resulting in selective elimination of inappropriate connections. This pattern of cell death in the developing retina is common among different vertebrates. However, the timing and magnitude of retinal cell death varies among species. In addition, a precise regulation of apoptosis during retinal development has been described. Factors such as neurotrophins, among many others, and electrical activity influence the survival of retinal cells during the course of development. In this paper, we present a summary of these different aspects of programmed cell death during retinal development, and examine how these differ among different species.