Retinal amacrine cells regulate activities of retinal ganglion cells, the output neurons to higher visual centers, through cellular mechanism of lateral inhibition in the inner plexiform layer (IPL). Electrical properties of gap junction networks between amacrine cells in the IPL were investigated using combined techniques of intracellular recordings, Lucifer yellow and Neurobiotin injection, dual patch-clamp recordings and high voltage electron microscopy in isolated retinas of cyprinid fish. Six types of gap-junctionally connected amacrine cells were classified after their light-evoked responses to light flashes were recorded. Among them, gap junction networks of three types of amacrine cells were studied with structure-function correlation analysis. Cellular morphology of intercellular connections between three homologous cell classes was characterized. The interconnections between laterally extending dendrites in the IPL were localized at dendritic tip terminals. Three types of cells presented the dendrodendritic connections of tip-contact manner in the homologous cell population. High voltage as well as conventional electron microscopy revealed gap junctions between the dendritic tips of Neurobiotin-coupled cells. Receptive field properties of these amacrine cells were examined, displacing a slit of light along the distance from recording sites in the dorsal intermediate region of the retina. Receptive field size, space length constant, response latency and conduction velocity were measured. Spatial and temporal properties of receptive fields were symmetric along horizontally expanding dendrites in the dorsal retina. Simultaneous dual patch-clamp recordings revealed that the lateral gap junction connections between homologous amacrine cells expressed bidirectional electrical synapses passing Na(+) spikes. These results demonstrate that bidirectional electrical transmission in gap junction networks of these amacrine cells is symmetric along the lateral gap junction connections between horizontally extending dendrites. Lateral inhibition regulated by amacrine cells in the IPL appears to be associated with the directional extension of the dendrites and the orientation of dendrodendritic gap junctions.
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