Release from the cone ribbon synapse under bright light conditions can be controlled by the opening of only a few Ca 2+ channels

Theodore M. Bartoletti, Skyler L. Jackman, Norbert Babai, Aaron J. Mercer, Richard H. Kramer, Wallace B. Thoreson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Light hyperpolarizes cone photoreceptors, causing synaptic voltage-gated Ca 2+ channels to open infrequently. To understand neurotransmission under these conditions, we determined the number of L-type Ca 2+ channel openings necessary for vesicle fusion at the cone ribbon synapse. Ca 2+ currents (I Ca) were activated in voltage-clamped cones, and excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) were recorded from horizontal cells in the salamander retina slice preparation. Ca 2+ channel number and singlechannel current amplitude were calculated by mean-variance analysis of I Ca. Two different comparisons-one comparing average numbers of release events to average I Ca amplitude and the other involving deconvolution of both EPSCs and simultaneously recorded cone I ca-suggested that fewer than three Ca 2+ channel openings accompanied fusion of each vesicle at the peak of release during the first few milliseconds of stimulation. Opening fewer Ca 2+ channels did not enhance fusion efficiency, suggesting that few unnecessary channel openings occurred during strong depolarization. We simulated release at the cone synapse, using empirically determined synaptic dimensions, vesicle pool size, Ca 2+ dependence of release, Ca 2+ channel number, and Ca 2+ channel properties. The model replicated observations when a barrier was added to slow Ca 2+ diffusion. Consistent with the presence of a diffusion barrier, dialyzing cones with diffusible Ca 2+ buffers did not affect release efficiency. The tight clustering of Ca 2+ channels, along with a high-Ca 2+ affinity release mechanism and diffusion barrier, promotes a linear coupling between Ca 2+ influx and vesicle fusion. This may improve detection of small light decrements when cones are hyperpolarized by bright light.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2922-2935
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Computer modeling
  • Electrophysiology
  • Retina
  • Synaptic transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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