This study investigates the neurone structure-specific differences of sensitivities of fluorescent tracers. The tracers were used for retrograde labelling of contralateral projections in the two visual pathways of the chick. Rhodamine B Isothiocyanate (RITC), Fluorogold (FG) and True blue (TB) were injected into either the visual Wulst (thalamofugal pathway) or the nucleus rotundus (Rt; tectofugal pathway) and the retrogradely labelled neurones in the nucleus geniculatus lateralis pars dorsalis (GLd) or the optic tectum, respectively, were counted. Differential retrograde labelling in the two pathways was observed. In the thalamofugal pathway, both the contralateral and ipsilateral GLd cells were labelled by all three tracers (RITC, FG and TB). However, in the tectofugal pathway, whereas RITC labelled both the ipsilateral and contralateral tectal neurones, FG or TB labelled effectively only the ipsilateral tectal neurones. It was clear that FG and TB were taken up by the nerve endings and transported part-way along the axon but failed to be transported to the cell bodies of the contralateral tectal neurones. In addition, red beads and green beads were also injected into Rt and the differential labelling was also observed. Red beads labelled both ipsilateral and contralateral tectal neurones but green beads labelled only the ipsilateral tectal neurones. Since the contralateral tectal projections consist of divergent axon collaterals, the present study suggests that various retrograde tracers are not transported in these axon collaterals to label cell bodies. The contralaterally projecting neurones in the thalamofugal pathway are not axon collaterals and they were labelled by all of the tracers used. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.