A preparation of isolated presynaptic terminals of rat retinal rod bipolar cells was developed. Patch-clamp recordings were performed on the isolated terminal to determine the type(s) of voltage-activated Ca2+ channels and the contribution of GABA(A) and GABA(C) receptor-mediated currents localized in the terminal region. Both low-voltage-activated (LVA) and high-voltage-activated (HVA) Ca2+ currents, with properties similar to those found in intact cell recordings, were observed in the isolated terminal recordings. Consistent with previous studies, the HVA Ca2+ currents are L-type since the currents were blocked by low micromolar concentrations of nimodipine and potentiated by BayK 8644. Also, both GABA(A) and GABA(C) receptor-mediated currents were observed in the isolated terminal. The current density of GABA(C) receptors in the terminal was more than three times higher than that in the soma. In contrast, the current density of GABA(A) currents between the terminal and the soma was not significantly different. Assessed by 100 microM GABA, the contributions of GABA(A) and GABA(C) receptors to the total GABA-mediated currents at the terminal were comparable. This study directly demonstrates the localization of LVA Ca2+ channels at the axon terminal of mammalian rod bipolar cells, suggesting that LVA Ca2+ channels may play a role in bipolar cell transmitter release. Results of this study also support the notion that both types of ionotropic GABA receptors regulate synaptic transmission in mammalian rod bipolar cells. In addition, this study reports for the first time the feasibility of direct patch-clamp recordings of isolated axon terminals of mammalian retinal bipolar cells. The isolated presynaptic terminal preparation of mammalian retinal bipolar cells could be a valuable system for the study of transmitter release in the central nervous system (CNS).