Retinal horizontal cells: old cells, old experiments, new results.

M. Piccolino, A. Pignatelli, L. Sbrenna


The study of neural interactions in the vertebrate retina carried out after the pioneering studies of Svaetichin has provided important information on the functioning of nerve circuits in the central nervous system. Recently we have investigated the effects of changes of divalent cation concentration on the synaptic transmission between cones and horizontal cells of the turtle retina. Our results seemed apparently in contrast with the classical Ca2(+)-hypothesis of chemical synaptic transmission. Application of low Ca2+ media resulted in a recovery of synaptic transmission after application of divalent cations such as Ca2+, Zn2+ and Ni2+ traditionally considered as Ca2+ channel antagonists. Moreover, in the absence of exogenous divalent cations, low Ca2+ could result in an increase of transmitter release particularly if Mg2+ was omitted from the perfusing medium. These apparently paradoxical results can be reconciled with the postulates of the Ca2(+)-hypothesis of synaptic transmission by taking into account the effects of divalent cations on the fixed charges present at the external surface of cell membrane. It is possible that a similar interpretation could also account for the so-called "Ca2(+)-independent" transmission in other structures of the nervous system.

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