The purpose of the present experiments was to evaluate the contribution of the glutamate-glutamine cycle in retinal glial (Müller) cells to photoreceptor cell synaptic transmission. Dark-adapted isolated rat retinas were superfused with oxygenated bicarbonate-buffered media. Recordings were made of the b-wave of the electroretinogram as a measure of light-induced photoreceptor to ON-bipolar neuron transmission. L-methionine sulfoximine (1-10 mM) was added to superfusion media to inhibit glutamine synthetase, a Müller cell specific enzyme, by more than 99% within 5-10 min, thereby disrupting the conversion of glutamate to glutamine in the Müller cells. Threo-hydroxyaspartic acid and D-aspartate were used to block glutamate transporters. The amplitude of the b-wave was well maintained for 1-2 h provided 0.25 mM glutamate or 0.25 mM glutamine was included in the media. Without exogenous glutamate or glutamine the amplitude of the b-wave declined by about 70% within 1 h. Inhibition of glutamate transporters led to a rapid (2-5 min) reversible loss of the b-wave in the presence and absence of the amino acids. In contrast, inhibition of glutamine synthetase did not alter significantly either the amplitude of the b-wave in the presence of glutamate or glutamine or the rate of decline of the b-wave found in the absence of these amino acids. Excellent recovery of the b-wave was found when 0.25 mM glutamate was resupplied to L-methionine sulfoximine-treated retinas. The results suggest that in the isolated rat retina uptake of released glutamate into photoreceptors plays a more important role in transmitter recycling than does uptake of glutamate into Müller cells and its subsequent conversion to glutamine.