Transmission at rod and cone ribbon synapses in the retina

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Light-evoked voltage responses of rod and cone photoreceptor cells in the vertebrate retina must be converted to a train of synaptic vesicle release events for transmission to downstream neurons. This review discusses the processes, proteins, and structures that shape this critical early step in vision, focusing on studies from salamander retina with comparisons to other experimental animals. Many mechanisms are conserved across species. In cones, glutamate release is confined to ribbon release sites although rods are also capable of release at non-ribbon sites. The role of non-ribbon release in rods remains unclear. Release from synaptic ribbons in rods and cones involves at least three vesicle pools: a readily releasable pool (RRP) matching the number of membrane-associated vesicles along the ribbon base, a ribbon reserve pool matching the number of additional vesicles on the ribbon, and an enormous cytoplasmic reserve. Vesicle release increases in parallel with Ca2+ channel activity. While the opening of only a few Ca2+ channels beneath each ribbon can trigger fusion of a single vesicle, sustained release rates in darkness are governed by the rate at which the RRP can be replenished. The number of vacant release sites, their functional status, and the rate of vesicle delivery in turn govern replenishment. Along with an overview of the mechanisms of exocytosis and endocytosis, we consider specific properties of ribbon-associated proteins and pose a number of remaining questions about this first synapse in the visual system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1491
Number of pages23
JournalPflugers Archiv European Journal of Physiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Exocytosis
  • Photoreceptor cell
  • Ribbon synapse
  • Vertebrate retina
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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