We examined how stimulation of the local retina by high-level current pulse trains affected the light-evoked responses of the retinal ganglion cells. The spikes of retinal ganglion cell axons were recorded extracellularly using an in vitro eyecup preparation of the rabbit retina. Epiretinal electrical stimulation was delivered via a 500 microm inner diameter saline-filled, transparent tube positioned over the retinal surface forming the receptive field center. Spot stimuli were presented periodically to the receptive field center during the experiment. Trains of biphasic 1 ms current pulses were delivered to the retina at 50 Hz for 1 min. Pulse train charge densities of 1.3-442 microC/cm(2)/phase were examined. After pulse train stimulation with currents >or=300 microA (133 microC/cm(2)/phase), the ganglion cell's ability to respond to light was depressed and a significant time was required for recovery of the light-evoked response. During train stimulation, the ganglion cell's ability to spike following each current pulse fatigued. The current levels evoking train-evoked depression were suprathreshold to those evoking action potentials. Train-evoked depression was stronger touching the retinal surface, and in some cases impaired ganglion cell function for up to 30 min. This overstimulation could cause a transient refractory period for electrically stimulated perception in the retinal region below the electrode.