RESPONSES to light are transmitted from photoreceptors to second-order retinal neurons by chemical synapses that may use an excitatory amino acid (EAA) as the neurotransmitter. This hypothesis is based primarily on the pharmacological actions of EAA agonists and antagonists on the membrane potentials and light responses of second-order neurons. But the release of endogenous EAAs, which is a critical criterion for the identification of EAAs as transmitters, has not been demonstrated. Here we report the use of outside-out membrane patches excised from rat hippocampal neurons to detect the release of EAAs from synaptic terminals of isolated turtle photoreceptors. Electrical stimulation of or application of lanthanum chloride to photoreceptors induced an increase in the frequency of opening of 50-pS channels in the patches. These channels were identified as the class of glutamate-activated channels that are also gated by aspartate and NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate). In several photoreceptor-patch pairs, spontaneous channel activity was observed near the synaptic terminals. These results provide strong evidence to support the hypothesis that both rods and cones of the turtle use an EAA as their neurotransmitter.
ASJC Scopus subject areas