Key points: Activation of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) is essential for encoding visual stimuli into signals for the brain, although their over-activation can cause cell death. The recruitment of NMDARs is important for encoding light intensity in retinal ganglion cells. d-serine binding is essential for proper activation of NMDARs, although its role in signal processing and the mechanisms that underlie its availability are not well understood. In these light-evoked experiments, the addition of exogenous d-serine had a large effect on low contrast and low intensity NMDAR responses that decreased as the intensity was increased. The degradation of endogenous d-serine decreased the responses more at higher intensities. The results provide compelling evidence favouring a new interpretation of NMDAR recruitment in which light-evoked d-serine release serves an important regulatory control over the recruitment of NMDARs. The present study aimed to investigate the functional properties of NMDA receptor coagonist release and to specifically evaluate whether light-evoked release mechanisms contribute to the availability of the coagonist d-serine. Two different methods were involved in our approach: (i) whole-cell recordings from identified retinal ganglion cells in the tiger salamander were used to study light adaptation with positive and negative contrast stimuli over a range of ± 1 log unit against a steady background illumination and (ii) the mechanisms for intensity encoding to a range of light intensities covering 6 log10 units were investigated. This latter study employed extracellular recordings of the proximal negative field potential, pharmacologically manipulated to generate a pure NMDA mediated response. For the adaptation study, we examined the light-evoked responses under control conditions, followed by light stimuli presented in the presence of d-serine, followed by light stimulation in the presence of dichlorokynurenic acid to block the coagonist site of NMDA receptors. For the brightness encoding studies, we examined the action of d-serine on each intensity used and then applied the enzyme d-serine deaminase to remove significant levels of d-serine. These studies provided new insights into the mechanisms that regulate coagonist availability in the vertebrate retina. Our results strongly support the idea that light-evoked coagonist release, a major component of which is d-serine, is needed to provide the full range of coagonist availability for optimal activation of NMDA receptors.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by National Eye Institute (NEI) Grant RO1 EY‐003014 to R. F. Miller and NEI Training Grant T32 EY‐07133 to E. R. Stevens and E. C. Gustafson.