Kinetics of Inhibitory Feedback from Horizontal Cells to Photoreceptors: Implications for an Ephaptic Mechanism

J Neurosci. 2016 Sep 28;36(39):10075-88. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1090-16.2016. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Inhibitory feedback from horizontal cells (HCs) to cones generates center-surround receptive fields and color opponency in the retina. Mechanisms of HC feedback remain unsettled, but one hypothesis proposes that an ephaptic mechanism may alter the extracellular electrical field surrounding photoreceptor synaptic terminals, thereby altering Ca(2+) channel activity and photoreceptor output. An ephaptic voltage change produced by current flowing through open channels in the HC membrane should occur with no delay. To test for this mechanism, we measured kinetics of inhibitory feedback currents in Ambystoma tigrinum cones and rods evoked by hyperpolarizing steps applied to synaptically coupled HCs. Hyperpolarizing HCs stimulated inward feedback currents in cones that averaged 8-9 pA and exhibited a biexponential time course with time constants averaging 14-17 ms and 120-220 ms. Measurement of feedback-current kinetics was limited by three factors: (1) HC voltage-clamp speed, (2) cone voltage-clamp speed, and (3) kinetics of Ca(2+) channel activation or deactivation in the photoreceptor terminal. These factors totaled ∼4-5 ms in cones meaning that the true fast time constants for HC-to-cone feedback currents were 9-13 ms, slower than expected for ephaptic voltage changes. We also compared speed of feedback to feedforward glutamate release measured at the same cone/HC synapses and found a latency for feedback of 11-14 ms. Inhibitory feedback from HCs to rods was also significantly slower than either measurement kinetics or feedforward release. The finding that inhibitory feedback from HCs to photoreceptors involves a significant delay indicates that it is not due to previously proposed ephaptic mechanisms.

Significance statement: Lateral inhibitory feedback from horizontal cells (HCs) to photoreceptors creates center-surround receptive fields and color-opponent interactions. Although underlying mechanisms remain unsettled, a longstanding hypothesis proposes that feedback is due to ephaptic voltage changes that regulate photoreceptor synaptic output by altering Ca(2+) channel activity. Ephaptic processes should occur with no delay. We measured kinetics of inhibitory feedback currents evoked in photoreceptors with voltage steps applied to synaptically coupled HCs and found that feedback is too slow to be explained by ephaptic voltage changes generated by current flowing through continuously open channels in HC membranes. By eliminating the proposed ephaptic mechanism for HC feedback regulation of photoreceptor Ca(2+) channels, our data support earlier proposals that synaptic cleft pH changes are more likely responsible.

Keywords: L-type calcium current; ephapse; horizontal cell; lateral inhibition; photoreceptor; retina.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Ambystoma
  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Horizontal Cells / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*