Existing models of the primate photopic electroretinogram (ERG) attribute the light-adapted b–wave to activity of depolarizing bipolar cells (DBCs), mediated through a release of potassium that is monitored by Müller cells. However, possible ERG contributions from OFF-bipolar cells (HBCs) and horizontal cells (HzCs) have not been explored. We examined the contribution of these hyperpolarizing second-order retinal cells to the photopic ERG of monkey by applying glutamate analogs to suppress photoreceptor transmission selectively to HBC/HzCs vs. DBCs.
ERGs of Macaca monkeys were recorded at the cornea before and after intravitreal injection of drugs. Photopic responses were elicited by bright 200–220 ms flashes on a steady background of 3.3 log scotopic troland to suppress rod ERG components.
2–amino-4–phosphonobutyric acid (APB), which blocks DBC light responses, abolished the photopic b–wave and indicated that DBC activity is requisite for photopic b–wave production.
However, applying cis–2,3–piperidine dicarboxylic acid (PDA) and kynurenic acid (KYN), to suppress HBCs/HzCs and third-order neurons, revealed a novel ERG response that was entirely positive and was sustained for the duration of the flash. The normally phasic b–wave was subsumed into this new response. Applying n–methyl-dl-aspartate (NMA) did not replicate the PDA+KYN effect, indicating that third-order retinal cells are not involved. This suggests that HBC/HzC activity is critical for shaping the phasic b–wave.
Components attributable to depolarizing vs. hyperpolarizing cells were separated by subtracting waveforms after each drug from responses immediately before. This analysis indicated that DBCs and HBC/HzCs each can produce large but opposing field potentials that nearly cancel and that normally leave only the residual phasic b–wave response in the photopic ERG.
Latency of the DBC component was 5–9 ms slower than the HBC/HzC component. However, once activated, the DBC component had a steeper slope. This resembles properties known for the two types of cone synapses in lower species, in which the sign-preserving HBC/HzC synapse has faster kinetics but probably lower gain than the slower sign-inverting G-protein coupled DBC synapse.
A human patient with “unilateral cone dystrophy” was found to have a positive and sustained ERG that mimicked the monkey ERG after PDA+KYN, indicating that these novel positive photopic responses can occur naturally even without drug application.
These results demonstrate that hyperpolarizing second-order neurons are important for the primate photopic ERG. A “Push-Pull Model” is proposed in which DBC activity is requisite for b–wave production but in which HBC/HzC activity limits the amplitude and controls the shape of the primate photopic b–wave.