Action and localization of acetylcholine in the cat retina.
1. Retinal ganglion cells were recorded extracellularly in the intact eye of anesthetized adult cats. The effects of acetylcholine (ACh), the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine (Sco), the nicotinic antagonist dihydro-beta-erythroidine (DBE), and the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor physostigmine (Phy) on maintained and light-evoked ganglion cell discharge was examined using iontophoresis techniques. 2. A monoclonal antibody directed against the ACh synthesizing enzyme choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) was used to label cholinergic cells in retinal wholemounts. The topographical distribution of these cells was studied. 3. Intracellular filling with the fluorescent dye lucifer yellow (LY) was performed to identify the dendritic morphology of putative cholinergic neurons. 4. ACh increased and Sco decreased neuronal activity of all brisk ganglion cell types under all stimulus conditions tested in this study. The action of ACh was abolished during simultaneous application of Sco. 5. DBE raised the firing rate of ON-center brisk cells and decreased activity of OFF-center brisk cells. Again there was no difference under different stimulus conditions. During DBE application the ACh action on OFF-center cells was completely blocked. The ACh action on ON-center cells was diminished. 6. Phy prolonged and enhanced ACh action on all ganglion cell types. During simultaneous stimulation of the receptive-field center and the surround, Phy caused an activity shift in favor of the center response. 7. Immunocytochemical staining revealed two populations of amacrine cells, one in the inner nuclear layer, and the other in the ganglion cell layer. Their total density increased from 250 cells/mm2 in the periphery to 2,700 cells/mm2 in the central area. Analysis of the distribution pattern indicated a functional independence of the two subpopulations. 8. The dendritic morphology of putative cholinergic amacrine cells in the cat retina resembled that of rabbit and rat "starburst" amacrines, which are known to be cholinergic. 9. The possible function of cholinergic amacrine cells in the cat retina is discussed in view of the present findings and compared with results from other mammalian species.