A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the human fovea during development.
The anatomical development of the human fovea has been sampled from 22 weeks gestation to adulthood, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The foveal depression continues to deepen after birth until 15 months, due to the migration of the cells of the inner retina toward the periphery. Before birth the rod-free zone or foveola is over 1000 microns in diameter, but it becomes progressively narrower after birth because of a centralward migration of cones. It reaches the adult diameter of 650-700 microns by 45 months of age. Postnatally, foveolar cone development is characterized by maturation, elongation, and an increase in packing density. Foveolar cone diameter changes markedly after birth, going from 7.5 microns at 5 days postnatal to 2 microns by 45 months. During this time the foveolar cone develops both its outer segment and basal axon process (fiber of Henle). This combination of elongation and centralward migration results in an increase of foveolar cone density from 18 cones/100 microns at 1 week postnatal to 42 cones/100 microns in the adult. Measures of foveola width and cone diameter reach the adult stage of development at 45 months of age, but the two important visual factors of outer segment length and cone packing density still are only half the adult values at 45 months of age.