Rational selection of electrical stimulus parameters for an electronic retinal prosthesis requires knowledge of the electrophysiological responses of retinal neurons to electrical stimuli. In this study, we examined the effects of cathodal and anodal current pulses on the extracellularly recorded responses of OFF and ON rabbit retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in an in vitro preparation. Current pulses (1 msec duration), delivered by a 125 microm electrode placed on the inner retinal surface within the receptive field of a RGC, produced both short-latency (< or =5 msec) and long-latency (8-60 msec) responses. The long-latency responses, but not the short-latency responses, were abolished upon application of the glutamate receptor antagonists CNQX and NBQX, thus indicating that the long-latency responses of RGCs are due to activation of presynaptic neurons in the retina. The latency of the long-latency response depended upon the polarity of the stimulus. For OFF RGCs, the average latency was 11 msec for a cathodal stimulus and 24 msec for an anodal stimulus. For ON RGCs, the average latency was 25 msec for a cathodal stimulus and 16 msec for an anodal stimulus. The threshold current also depended upon the polarity of the stimulus, at least for OFF RGCs. The average threshold current for evoking a long-latency response in OFF RGCs was 10 microA for a cathodal stimulus and 21 microA for an anodal stimulus. In ON RGCs, the average threshold current was 13 microA for a cathodal stimulus and 15 microA for an anodal stimulus.