Following the destruction of the terminals of the dopaminergic interplexiform cells by intraocular injections of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA), cone horizontal cells exhibited high light responsiveness in prolonged darkness and their responses to moderate and bright full-field flashes were as large as 60 mV. Furthermore, the light responsiveness of these cells in the 6-OHDA-treated retinas was not enhanced by background illumination. The application of dopamine (50 microM) by superfusion to 6-OHDA-treated retinas resulted in a decrease in light responsiveness and changes in response waveform of the cone horizontal cells. Twenty minutes following dopamine application the responses of the cone horizontal cells closely resembled the response of cells recorded in prolonged dark-adapted retinas. Dopamine caused similar changes in cone horizontal cells recorded in light-exposed retinas, but had no obvious effects on rod horizontal cells. The selective dopamine D1 receptor antagonist, Sch 23390, enhanced cone horizontal cell responsiveness when applied to prolonged dark-adapted retinas, mimicking background illumination. The light responsiveness of cone horizontal cells recorded after application of Sch 23390 was less than that for cells in retinas that had been exposed to background lights, but light responsiveness could not be further enhanced by background illumination. Another dopamine antagonist, (+)-butaclamol, was found to have effects similar to Sch 23390 on cone horizontal cells, but (-)-butaclamol, the inactive enantiomer, did not enhance the light responsiveness of these cells. The results suggest that the dopaminergic interplexiform cells play a crucial role in the regulation of cone horizontal cell responsiveness by prolonged darkness and background illumination. These cells may release dopamine tonically in the dark, which suppresses cone horizontal cell responsiveness. Background illumination may decrease dopamine release and liberate cone horizontal cells from the suppression.