• Ambystoma tigrinum;
  • ionic currents;
  • retina;
  • ribbon synapses;
  • synaptic transmission


The mechanisms underlying the conversion of prolonged glutamate release from ribbon synapses in bipolar cells to sustained and transient excitatory postsynaptic responses in identified retinal amacrine cells were studied in tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) retina. A retina slice preparation with whole cell patch recording techniques under voltage- and current-clamp conditions was used to assay the electrical properties of bipolar and amacrine cells. Amacrine cells were categorized into two basic forms: (i) transient amacrine cells that respond to a step of light with a burst of spikes only at the transitions of the step; and (ii) sustained amacrine cells that respond with continuous spiking during the entire light step. The two cell types each had a characteristic morphology: transient amacrine cells possessed wide dendritic fields (χ = 375 μm), while sustained cells had much more narrowly confined dendritic fields (χ = 85 μm). Whole cell voltage-gated currents of the transient and sustained cell types were not significantly different. Both cell types had spikes that were sensitive to tetradotoxin (TTX, 0.3 μm) with voltage deflections of up to 100 mV. Light-evoked excitatory synaptic currents relaxed rapidly in transient neurons (τ1/2 = 100 ms) and more slowly in sustained neurons (τ1/2 = 1.2 s). EPSCs in both cells reversed near 0 mV. Rapid application of glutamate or kainate elicited rapidly desensitizing ionic currents (τ1/2 = 85 ms) followed by a slowly desensitizing component. Cyclothiazide, a drug that eliminates rapid desensitization, lengthened the time course of the glutamate gated current from τ1/2 = 85 ms to about 3 s, and the relaxation kinetics of the glutamatergic EPSC from τ1/2 = 85 ms to about 1.0 s. These data suggest that a key determinant in forming transient versus sustained responses in amacrine cells of vertebrate retina is the differences in their excitatory, glutamatergic synaptic inputs, and that rapid desensitization of glutamate receptors plays a role in converting the presynaptic signal associated with sustained glutamate release into a postsynaptic, transient signal at the ribbon synapse.