Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the retina and also appears to act as a trophic factor regulating photoreceptor development and regeneration. Although the tiger salamander is a major model system for the study of retinal circuitry and regeneration, our understanding of GABA receptors in this species is almost exclusively based on the results of physiological studies. Therefore, we have examined the pharmacological binding properties of GABAA receptors and their anatomical localization in the tiger salamander retina. Radioligand-binding studies showed that specific 3H-GABA binding to GABAA receptors was dominated by a single high-affinity binding site (Kd = 15.6 ± 6.9 nM). Specific binding of 3H-GABA was almost completely eliminated by muscimol (Ki = 105 ± 62 nM) and bicuculline (Ki = 14.3 ± 2.2 μM); however, SR-95531 only displaced about 40% of specific 3H-GABA binding (Ki = 35.0 ± 3.8 nM). These data indicate that there are at least two subtypes of GABAA receptors present in the salamander retina that can be distinguished by their antagonist binding properties: one sensitive to both bicuculline and SR-95531, and one sensitive to bicuculline but insensitive to SR-95531. Because localization of GABA receptors in the salamander retina by immunocytochemistry is problematic, GABAA receptors were localized by fluorescent ligand binding combined with immunocytochemical labeling for cell specific markers. Binding of fluorescently labeled muscimol to GABAA receptors was present in both plexiform layers and on photoreceptor cell bodies. GABAA receptors in the outer plexiform layer were localized to both photoreceptor terminals and horizontal cell processes.
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