The receptive field (RF) of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) consists of an excitatory central region, the RF center, and an inhibitory peripheral region, the RF surround. It is still unknown in detail which inhibitory interneurons (horizontal or amacrine cells) and which inhibitory circuits (presynaptic or postsynaptic) generate the RF surround. To study surround inhibition, light-evoked whole-cell currents were recorded from RGCs of the isolated, intact rabbit retina. The RFs were stimulated with light or dark spots of increasing diameters and with annular light stimuli. Direct inhibitory currents could be isolated by voltage clamping ganglion cells close to the Na(+)/K(+) reversal potential. They mostly represent an input from GABAergic amacrine cells that contribute to the inhibitory surround of ganglion cells. This direct inhibitory input and its physiological function were also investigated by recording light-evoked action potentials of RGCs in the current-clamp mode and by changing the intracellular Cl(-) concentration. The excitatory input of the ganglion cells could be isolated by voltage clamping ganglion cells at the Cl(-) reversal potential. Large light spots and annular light stimuli caused a strong attenuation of the excitatory input. Both GABA(A) receptors and GABA(C) receptors contributed to this inhibition, and picrotoxinin was able to completely block it. Together, these results show that the RF surround of retinal ganglion cells is mediated by a combination of direct inhibitory synapses and presynaptic surround inhibition.
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