Recent studies suggest that the neural retinal response to light is compromised in diabetes. Electroretinogram studies suggest that the dim light retinal rod pathway is especially susceptible to diabetic damage. The purpose of this study was to determine whether diabetes alters rod pathway signaling.
The timing of neurotransmitter release from neurons can be modulated by many presynaptic mechanisms. The retina uses synaptic ribbons to mediate slow graded glutamate release from bipolar cells that carry photoreceptor inputs. However, many inhibitory amacrine cells, which modulate bipolar cell output, spike and do not have ribbons for graded release. Despite this, slow glutamate release from bipolar cells is modulated by slow GABAergic inputs that shorten the output of bipolar cells, changing the timing of visual signaling. The time course of light-evoked inhibition is slow due to a combination of receptor properties and prolonged neurotransmitter release. However, the light-evoked release of GABA requires activation of neurons upstream from the amacrine cells, so it is possible that prolonged release is due to slow amacrine cell activation, rather than slow inherent release properties of the amacrine cells. To test this idea, we directly activated primarily action potential-dependent amacrine cell inputs to bipolar cells with electrical stimulation. We found that the decay of GABAC receptor-mediated electrically evoked inhibitory currents was significantly longer than would be predicted by GABAC receptor kinetics, and GABA release, estimated by deconvolution analysis, was inherently slow. Release became more transient after increasing slow Ca(2+) buffering or blocking prolonged L-type Ca(2+) channels and Ca(2+) release from intracellular stores. Our results suggest that GABAergic amacrine cells have a prolonged buildup of Ca(2+) in their terminals that causes slow, asynchronous release. This could be a mechanism of matching the time course of amacrine cell inhibition to bipolar cell glutamate release.
Inhibition at bipolar cell axon terminals regulates excitatory signaling to ganglion cells and is mediated, in part, by GABAC receptors. We investigated GABAC receptor-mediated inhibition using pharmacological approaches and genetically altered mice that lack GABAC receptors. Responses to applied GABA showed distinct time courses in various bipolar cell classes, attributable to different proportions of GABAA and GABAC receptors. The elimination of GABAC receptors in GABAC null mice reduced and shortened GABA-activated currents and light-evoked inhibitory synaptic currents (L-IPSCs) in rod bipolar cells. ERG measurements and recordings from the optic nerve showed that inner retinal function was altered in GABAC null mice. These data suggest that GABAC receptors determine the time course and extent of inhibition at bipolar cell terminals that, in turn, modulates the magnitude of excitatory transmission from bipolar cells to ganglion cells.
Synaptic inhibition is determined by the properties of postsynaptic receptors, neurotransmitter release, and clearance, but little is known about how these factors shape sensation-evoked inhibition. The retina is an ideal system to investigate inhibition because it can be activated physiologically with light, and separate inhibitory pathways can be assayed by recording from rod bipolar cells that possess distinct glycine, GABA(A), and GABA(C) receptors (R). We show that receptor properties differentially shape spontaneous IPSCs, whereas both transmitter release and receptor properties shape light-evoked (L) IPSCs. GABA(C)R-mediated IPSCs decayed the slowest, whereas glycineR- and GABA(A)R-mediated IPSCs decayed more rapidly. Slow GABA(C)Rs determined the L-IPSC decay, whereas GABA(A)Rs and glycineRs, which mediated rapid onset responses, determined the start of the L-IPSC. Both fast and slow inhibitory inputs distinctly shaped the output of rod bipolar cells. The slow GABA(C)Rs truncated glutamate release, making the A17 amacrine cell L-EPSCs more transient, whereas the fast GABA(A)R and glycineRs reduced the initial phase of glutamate release, limiting the peak amplitude of the L-EPSC. Estimates of transmitter release time courses suggested that glycine release was more prolonged than GABA release. The time course of GABA release activating GABA(C)Rs was slower than that activating GABA(A)Rs, consistent with spillover activation of GABA(C)Rs. Thus, both postsynaptic receptor and transmitter release properties shape light-evoked inhibition in retina.