The cone 'synaptic complex' is a unique structure in which a single presynaptic axon secretes glutamate onto processes of bipolar cells (both ON and OFF) and horizontal cells. In turn, the horizontal cell processes antagonize cone and bipolar responses to glutamate (probably by GABA). What still remains largely unknown is the molecular identity of the postsynaptic receptors and their exact locations. We identified several subunits of the glutamate receptor and the GABAA receptor expressed at the cone synaptic complex and localized them ultrastructurally. Glutamate receptors: (i) Invaginating (probably ON) bipolar dendrites in the monkey and rat express the metabotropic glutamate receptor, mGluR6. The stain is intense on the dendritic membrane where it first enters the invagination, and weak at the tip nearest to the ribbon. The cone membrane is electron-dense where it apposes the intense stain for mGluR6. Surprisingly, invaginating bipolar dendrites in the cat also express the AMPA receptor subunits, GluR2/3 and GluR4. (ii) Dendrites forming basal contacts in the cat (probably OFF) express the AMPA subunits GluR2/3, GluR4, and also the kainate subunit, GluR6/7. The stain is especially intense at the dendritic tips in apposition to electron-dense regions of cone membrane. (iii) Horizontal cells in the cat express the AMPA subunits GluR2/3, GluR4 and the kainate subunit, GluR6/7. The stain is strongest in the cytosol of somas and primary dendrites, but is also present in the invaginating terminals where it localizes to the membrane subjacent to the ribbon. GABAA receptors: (i) ON and OFF bipolar dendrites in the monkey express the alpha 1 and beta 2/3 subunits. The stain is localized to the bipolar cell membrane in apposition to horizontal cell processes. (ii) Cones did not express the GABAA subunits tested by immunocytochemistry, but beta 3 mRNA was amplified by RT-PCR from rat photoreceptors.
Conclusions: (i) mGluR6 receptors concentrate on dendrites at the base of the invagination rather than at the apex. This implies that receptors at both 'invaginating' and 'basal' contacts lie roughly equidistant from the release sites and should therefore receive similar spatiotemporal concentrations of glutamate. (ii) The 'cone' membrane is electron-dense opposite to the receptor sites on both ON and OFF bipolar cells. This suggests a special role for this region in synaptic transmission. Possibly, these densities signify a transporter that would regulate glutamate concentration at sites remote (> 200 nm) from the locus of vesicle release.