Activity at night in efferent nerve fibers from a central circadian clock produces changes in photoreceptor function in the lateral compound eye of Limulus: the response to light is increased; membrane potential fluctuations (bumps) occurring in the dark are suppressed; and the duration of bumps occurring both in the dark and under dim illumination is increased (Barlow et al., 1977; Kaplan & Barlow, 1980; Barlow, 1983; Barlow et al., 1985). Efferent nerve terminals release octopamine when activated (Battelle et al., 1982; Battelle & Evans, 1984, 1986); exogenous octopamine in vitro produces some of the changes resulting from efferent nerve activity in vivo (Kass et al., 1988). We report here that the increase in both on-transient and steady-state response to light induced by octopamine in the lateral eye in vitro are concentration dependent with threshold at or below 100 nM, saturation at or above 100 microM, and half-maximal increase in the range 1-10 microM. Octopamine also reduces bump activity in the dark in a concentration-dependent way. Unlike the increase in light response, the dependence of this effect on octopamine concentration is extremely variable from specimen to specimen. The effects of exogenous octopamine on light response and bump activity can sometimes be reversed by removing octopamine from the medium bathing the in vitro preparation. Octopamine also increases bump duration, apparently in a concentration-dependent manner. We have not succeeded in reversing this increase in bump duration. The concentration dependence of changes in photoreceptor response described here agrees qualitatively with the dependence of cAMP levels on octopamine in Limulus photoreceptors (Kaupp et al., 1982), lending further support to the idea that cAMP acts as a second messenger in the circadian control of photoreceptor function. Our results also suggest that the changes induced in the transient and steady-state response to light by both efferent nerve activity and exogenous octopamine have a common origin, which may differ from that responsible for the modulation of bump activity.