Responses to acetylcholine of ganglion cells in an isolated mammalian retina

J Neurophysiol. 1976 Nov;39(6):1220-35. doi: 10.1152/jn.1976.39.6.1220.


1. Rabbit retinas were isolated and superfused with a physiological medium. Ganglion cell activity was recorded during stimulation with focused light, and receptive fields were mapped. Receptive fields were identical to those found in vivo and did not change during a 6-h incubation. After the receptive field of a ganglion cell had been identified, acetylcholine or related agents were introduced singly or in combination into the medium, and their effect on the cell's spontaneous and light-evoked activity was observed. 2. Ganglion cells with on-center or directionally selective receptive fields were excited when ACh was added to the medium. The response to exogenous ACh was prevented by cholinergic antagonists. 3. These cells' spontaneous activity and response to light were enhanced by anticholinesterase and depressed by cholinergic antagonists. Antagonists varied in their ability to block the light-evoked response, with dihydro-beta-erythroidine the most effective. 4. Thresholds for ACh or the related agents were low, ranging from 1 to 40 muM; their effects were rapidly and completely reversed when the retina was returned to control medium. 5. In retinas incubated in medium containing 20 mM Mg2+ and 0.2 mM Ca2+, ganglion cells lost completely both their spontaneous and light-evoked activity, but retained their ability to generate action potentials in response to elevated K+. Ganglion cell activity rapidly returned to normal when the retina was returned to medium containing normal electrolytes. On-center and directionally selective cells were excited by ACh in retinas where synaptic transmission had been inhibited by 20 mM Mg2+ and 0.2 mM Ca2+. 6. The responses of on-center and directionally selective cells to ACh, to anticholinesterase, and to cholinergic antagonists in control medium indicate that the retina contains one or more synapses using ACh as a neurotransmitter. The response to ACh in retinas exposed to 20 mM Mg2+ and 0.2 mM Ca2+ suggests that at least one such synapse in on the ganglion cell itself. 7. Off-center cells were inhomogenous in their response to ACh. Although some responded just as the other classes of cell, the majority responded quite weakly and a subgroup was encountered which was entirely unaffected by even 1 mM ACh, by levels of physostigmine which inactivate virtually all retinal acetyl-cholinesterase, or by high concentrations of cholinergic antagonists. Only 2 of 20 off-cells tested in the presence of 20 mM Mg2+ and 0.2 mM Ca2+ were excited by ACh. Apparently ACh is not a primary transmitter for most off-cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology*
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Dihydro-beta-Erythroidine / pharmacology
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects
  • Ganglia / cytology
  • Ganglia / drug effects*
  • Hexamethonium Compounds / pharmacology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Light
  • Magnesium / metabolism
  • Mecamylamine / pharmacology
  • Physostigmine / pharmacology
  • Rabbits
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / drug effects*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Tubocurarine / pharmacology


  • Hexamethonium Compounds
  • Dihydro-beta-Erythroidine
  • Mecamylamine
  • Physostigmine
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Magnesium
  • Acetylcholine
  • Calcium
  • Tubocurarine