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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Nov 8;108(45):18447-52. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1107994108. Epub 2011 Oct 26.

Disinhibitory gating of retinal output by transmission from an amacrine cell.

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Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Inhibitory interneurons help transform the input of a neural circuit into its output. Such interneurons are diverse, and most have unknown function. To study the function of single amacrine cells in the intact salamander retina, we recorded extracellularly from a population of ganglion cells with a multielectrode array, while simultaneously recording from or injecting current into single Off-type amacrine cells that had linear responses. We measured how visual responses of the amacrine cell interacted both with other visual input to the ganglion cell and with transmission between the two cells. We found that on average, visual responses from Off-type amacrine cells inhibited nearby Off-type ganglion cells. By recording and playing back the light-driven membrane potential fluctuations of amacrine cells during white noise visual stimuli, we found that paradoxically, increasing the light-driven modulations of inhibitory amacrine cells increased the firing rate of nearby Off-type ganglion cells. By measuring the correlations and transmission between amacrine and ganglion cells, we found that, on average, the amacrine cell hyperpolarizes before the ganglion cell fires, generating timed disinhibition just before the ganglion cell spikes. In addition, we found that amacrine to ganglion cell transmission is nonlinear in that increases in ganglion cell activity produced by amacrine hyperpolarization were greater than decreases in activity produced by amacrine depolarization. We conclude that the primary mode of action of this class of amacrine cell is to actively gate the ganglion cell response by a timed release from inhibition.

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