by James C. R. Grove, Arlene A. Hirano, Janira de los Santos, Cyrus F. McHugh, Shashvat Purohit, Greg D. Field, Nicholas C. Brecha, Steven Barnes

The stream of visual information sent from photoreceptors to second-order bipolar cells is intercepted by laterally interacting horizontal cells that generate feedback to optimize and improve the efficiency of signal transmission. The mechanisms underlying the regulation of graded photoreceptor synaptic output in this nonspiking network have remained elusive. Here, we analyze with patch clamp recording the novel mechanisms by which horizontal cells control pH in the synaptic cleft to modulate photoreceptor neurotransmitter release. First, we show that mammalian horizontal cells respond to their own GABA release and that the results of this autaptic action affect cone voltage-gated Ca2+ channel (CaV channel) gating through changes in pH. As a proof-of-principle, we demonstrate that chemogenetic manipulation of horizontal cells with exogenous anion channel expression mimics GABA-mediated cone CaV channel inhibition. Activation of these GABA receptor anion channels can depolarize horizontal cells and increase cleft acidity via Na+/H+ exchanger (NHE) proton extrusion, which results in inhibition of cone CaV channels. This action is effectively counteracted when horizontal cells are sufficiently hyperpolarized by increased GABA receptor (GABAR)-mediated HCO3 efflux, alkalinizing the cleft and disinhibiting cone CaV channels. This demonstrates how hybrid actions of GABA operate in parallel to effect voltage-dependent pH changes, a novel mechanism for regulating synaptic output.

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