Simulation of the AII amacrine cell of mammalian retina: functional consequences of electrical coupling and regenerative membrane properties

Vis Neurosci. 1995 Sep-Oct;12(5):851-60. doi: 10.1017/s095252380000941x.


The AII amacrine cell of mammalian retina collects signals from several hundred rods and is hypothesized to transmit quantal "single-photon" signals at scotopic (starlight) intensities. One problem for this theory is that the quantal signal from one rod when summed with noise from neighboring rods would be lost if some mechanism did not exist for removing the noise. Several features of the AII might together accomplish such a noise removal operation: The AII is interconnected into a syncytial network by gap junctions, suggesting a noise-averaging function, and a quantal signal from one rod appears in five AII cells due to anatomical divergence. Furthermore, the AII contains voltage-gated Na+ and K+ channels and fires slow action potentials in vitro, suggesting that it could selectively amplify quantal photon signals embedded in uncorrelated noise. To test this hypothesis, we simulated a square array of AII somas (Rm = 25,000 Ohm-cm2) interconnected by gap junctions using a compartmental model. Simulated noisy inputs to the AII produced noise (3.5 mV) uncorrelated between adjacent cells, and a gap junction conductance of 200 pS reduced the noise by a factor of 2.5, consistent with theory. Voltage-gated Na+ and K+ channels (Na+: 4 nS, K+: 0.4 nS) produced slow action potentials similar to those found in vitro in the presence of noise. For a narrow range of Na+ and coupling conductance, quantal photon events (approximately 5-10 mV) were amplified nonlinearly by subthreshold regenerative events in the presence of noise. A lower coupling conductance produced spurious action potentials, and a greater conductance reduced amplification. Since the presence of noise in the weakly coupled circuit readily initiates action potentials that tend to spread throughout the AII network, we speculate that this tendency might be controlled in a negative feedback loop by up-modulating coupling or other synaptic conductances in response to spiking activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Artifacts
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Gap Junctions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Membranes / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Sodium Channels / physiology


  • Potassium Channels
  • Sodium Channels