Organization of afferent information into parallel ON and OFF pathways is a critical feature of the vertebrate visual system. All afferent visual information in the vertebrate retina reaches the inner plexiform layer (IPL) via bipolar cells. It is at the bipolar cell level that separation of ON and OFF information first appears for afferent information from cones. This may also hold true for the rod pathway of cold-blooded vertebrates, but not for mammals. The all-rod retina of the skate presents an opportunity to examine such pathways in a retina having but a single class of photoreceptor. Immunocytochemical evidence suggests that both ON and OFF bipolar cells are present in the skate retina. We examined the pharmacology of the skate electroretinogram (ERG) to test the hypothesis that independent ON and OFF bipolar cell pathways are functional as rod afferent pathways from outer to inner plexiform layer in the skate. 100 microM 2-amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid (APB) reversibly blocked the skate ERG b-wave. A small d-wave-like OFF component of the ERG revealed by DC recording of response to a prolonged (10 s) flash of light was reduced or blocked by 5 mM kynurenic acid (KYN). We found that addition of 200 microM picrotoxin to the Ringer's solution revealed prominent ON and OFF components of the skate ERG while reducing the c-wave. These ON and OFF components were reversibly blocked by 100 microM APB and 5 mM KYN, respectively. Reversible block of the OFF component by KYN was also accomplished in the presence of 500 microM N-methyl-DL-aspartate. From these findings, we conclude that ON and OFF bipolar cells are likely to be functional as parallel afferent interplexiform pathways in the all-rod retina of the skate.

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