To achieve high sensitivity at scotopic levels, vision sacrifices spatial and temporal resolution. The detection of dim light, however, depends crucially on the ability of the visual system to speed up rod signals as they advance towards the brain. At higher light levels, gain control mechanisms are necessary to prevent premature saturation of second-order neurons. We investigated how goldfish mixed-input ON bipolar cells (ON mBCs) manage to partially compensate for the intrinsically slow kinetics of rod signals in the dark-adapted state, and at the same time control the gain of rod signals. Rod-driven responses of axotomized ON mBCs become faster and more transient than those of rod horizontal cells as stimulus intensity increases. This transientness has a voltage-dependency consistent with the activation of a voltage-gated K+ conductance. Simulations with NEURON indicate that the voltage-gated K+ channels responsible for speeding up responses are concentrated at the distal tips of the bipolar cell dendrites, close to the glutamate receptors. These channels act as a gain control mechanism, by shunting the effect of tonically hyperpolarized rods onto the ON mBC. Further activation of K+ channels accelerates the ON mBC response by decreasing the membrane time constant as light levels increase. Therefore, the presence of voltage-gated K+ channels at the dendritic tips of ON mBCs extends the dynamic range of these neurons, and at the same time generates a transient signal already at the first visual synapse.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience