PURPOSE: To characterize morphologic alterations in the retina of the visual mutant zebrafish gantenbein (gnn) and to examine whether these alterations correlate with those present in human hereditary eye diseases. METHODS: The gnn mutant was isolated by behavioral and macroscopic screening. Retinas of gnn zebrafish larvae were examined at different developmental stages from 2 to 9 days postfertilization (dpf) by standard histologic staining techniques and by immunocytochemistry. Ultrastructural alterations were examined by electron microscopy. The genetic map position of the induced mutation was identified by mapping with two candidate primer pairs on single larvae. RESULTS: The gnn mutant exhibited shortened outer photoreceptor segments and altered RPE morphology. In the photoreceptor layer of the mutant, the total number of lectin-labeled cones was reduced in all developmental stages from 2 to 7 dpf, whereas the amount of rhodopsin-positive cells remained at the wild-type (WT) level. Labeling with zebrafish opsin antibodies revealed dystrophic red cones at 5 dpf, whereas the morphology of all other cone types was largely unaffected. Electron microscopy unveiled electron-dense deposits between the discs of the double cone outer segments. In addition, the onset of progressive RPE degeneration was observed at this stage of development. At later stages, all cone types and the RPE became degenerative. The morphology of distinct second-order neurons remained largely unaffected by the mutation. The gnn mutation was located approximately 4.3 cM from the simple sequence length polymorphism (SSLP) marker Z15453 on linkage group 16. CONCLUSIONS: In gnn mutant zebrafish, cones, and especially red cones, are dystrophic in early retinal development. Subsequent to this cone dystrophy, the RPE becomes dysfunctional and starts to degenerate in later stages of development. Thus, the early developmental morphology of gnn exhibits similarities to cone dystrophies most commonly seen in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) among humans, whereas the later stages of degeneration in gnn resemble RPE alterations in retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in humans. The gnn zebrafish mutant may therefore be a useful model for examining the possible interplay and connection between cone dystrophy and RPE degeneration.