Visual Neuroscience

Research Articles

Functional role of GABA in cat retina: II. Effects of GABAA antagonists

Thomas E. Frumkesa1a2, Ralph Nelsona1 and Renate Pfluga3

a1 Laboratory of Neurophysiology, National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda

a2 Psychology Department, 65–30 Kissena Blvd., Queens College of CUNY, Flushing

a3 Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Physiologic der Universität Wien, 1090 Vienna, Austria


Putative GABAergic mechanisms were studied in the cat retina by exogenous application of the GABAA antagonists picrotoxin (PTX), native bicuculline (BCC), and bicuculline methyl bromide (BCC MeBr). When recording intracellular responses from horizontal cells (HCs) and amacrine cells as well as electroretinograms (ERGs), drugs were added to the perfusate used to maintain the isolated eyecup; when recording extracellular spikes from ganglion cells of anesthetized cats, drugs were introduced by iontophoretic injection. Both PTX and BCC MeBr had relatively little influence upon the response properties of HCs. In contrast, native BCC tended to decrease the amplitude of and to slow the photic response to light onset and both to quicken and to increase the amplitude of response to light offset; in the presence of native BCC, HC responses were dominated by a prominent spike-like “Off-overshoot.” The influence of GABAA agonists upon HC responses was not blocked by GABAA antagonists. ERG b−wave amplitude was reduced both by PTX and by native BCC, but was not influenced by BCC MeBr. Latency (time to half-peak) was increased by low doses of native BCC, and to a lesser extent PTX but not BCC MeBr. Rod-amacrine On-transient responses were increased in amplitude by PTX. Extracellular recordings from On- and Off- X and Y ganglion cell types became considerably more transient with application of either PTX, native BCC, or BCC MeBr; this tendency was greater in Off-type ganglion cells. Collectively, these results strengthen conclusions from the previous paper suggesting that GABA serves to slow onset and offset kinetics of retinal neurons, making them more sustained and less phasic. They also suggest that in mammalian retina heterogeneous types of GABAA receptors exist, segregated into different zones: a distal zone, sensitive only to native BCC, a central zone sensitive to both native BCC and PTX, and a proximal zone sensitive to native BCC, BCC methyl halides (BCC MeH), and PTX. Only the proximal zone obeys conventional GABAA pharmacology.

(Received October 28 1993)

(Accepted December 28 1994)


Reprint requests to: Thomas E. Frumkes, Psychology Department, 65–30 Kissena Blvd., Queens College of CUNY, Flushing, NY 11367-0904, USA.