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Narrow and wide field amacrine cells fire action potentials in response to depolarization and light stimulation

  • STEPHANIE J. HEFLIN (a1) and PAUL B. COOK (a1) (a2)

Action potentials in amacrine cells are important for lateral propagation of signals across the inner retina, but it is unclear how many subclasses of amacrine cells contain voltage-gated sodium channels or can fire action potentials. This study investigated the ability of amacrine cells with narrow (< 200 μm) and wide (> 200 μm) dendritic fields to fire action potentials in response to depolarizing current injections and light stimulation. The pattern of action potentials evoked by current injections revealed two distinct classes of amacrine cells; those that responded with a single action potential (single-spiking cells) and those that responded with repetitive action potentials (repetitive-spiking cells). Repetitive-spiking cells differed from single-spiking cells in several regards: Repetitive-spiking cells were more often wide field cells, while single-spiking cells were more often narrow field cells. Repetitive-spiking cells had larger action potential amplitudes, larger peak voltage-gated NaV currents lower action potential thresholds, and needed less current to induce action potentials. However, there was no difference in the input resistance, holding current or time constant of these two classes of cells. The intrinsic capacity to fire action potentials was mirrored in responses to light stimulation; single-spiking amacrine cells infrequently fired action potentials to light steps, while repetitive-spiking amacrine cells frequently fired numerous action potentials. These results indicate that there are two physiologically distinct classes of amacrine cells based on the intrinsic capacity to fire action potentials.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Paul B. Cook, Biology Department, Boston University, 5 Cummington Avenue, Boston, MA 02214. E-mail:
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