γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) has been reported to be an important neurotransmitter in the retinas of many species. This immunocytochemical study detailed the localization of antigens resembling GABA and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of GABA), in retinal neurons in the turtle, Pseudemys scripta elegans. GABA-like immunoreactivity was present within somata in the inner and outer regions of the inner nuclear layer, within somata in the ganglion cell layer, and in processes in the outer plexiform layer, inner plexiform layer, and ganglion cell axon layer. GAD-like immunoreactivity was found in somata in the inner and outer regions of the inner nuclear layer and in processes in the inner and outer plexiform layers. Cell counts indicated more somata with GABA-like than GAD-like immunoreactivity in the inner nuclear layer. Double-label studies showed that every somata in the inner nuclear layer which had GAD-like immunoreactivity also had GABA-like immunoreactivity, but that many somata had only GABA-like immunoreactivity.
The stratification of immunoreactivity within the inner plexiform layer was analyzed using a scanning densitometer. We described the strata within the inner plexiform layer such that S0 represented the inner nuclear layer/inner plexiform layer border and S100 represented the inner plexiform layer/ganglion cell layer border. Analysis of GAD-like labeling yielded seven distinct strata with peak densities at positions S8, S19, S28, S42, S59, S75, and S93. GABA-like labeling provided five distinct strata with peak densities at positions S17, S28, S67, S84, and S95. The strata with peaks of GABA-like immunoreactivity at S17 and S28 were in statistically identical locations to corresponding strata with GAD-like immunoreactivity. The strata with GABA-like immunoreactivity at S67, S84, and S95 did not have statistically identical peaks of correlated GAD-like immunoreactivity, although there were corresponding strata with GAD-like immunoreactivity nearby. Antiserum directed against GABA failed to produce labeled strata at positions corresponding to the strata with GAD-like immunoreactivity at S8 and S42.
In summary, our results indicated that the antisera we used, which were directed against GABA and GAD, produced significantly different labeling in the inner nuclear layer, inner plexiform layer, and the ganglion cell body and axon layers of the turtle retina. Until the physiological significance of these differences is resolved, studies employing these markers to investigate the function of GABA in the turtle retina should be interpreted with caution.