The mechanism by which NBQX enhances NMDA currents in retinal ganglion cells

Weifeng Yu, Robert F. Miller

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18 Scopus citations


When the quinoxaline NBQX (2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzo (F) quinoxaline), a KA/AMPA antagonist, is bath applied to the tiger salamander retina, a paradoxical action is evident in the light-evoked synaptic responses of ganglion cells: NBQX enhances excitatory synaptic currents at light onset observed under whole-cell voltage-clamp conditions in a perfused retinal slice preparation. This observation was surprising because synaptic inputs into ganglion cells that are mediated by KA/AMPA receptors are entirely blocked by NBQX. Thus, the NBQX-enhanced current is entirely mediated by NMDA receptors. The purpose of this study was to determine the mechanism(s) by which blocking KA/AMPA receptors appears to enhance NMDA currents. Using hyperosmotic sucrose stimulation to activate neurotransmitter release from the inner retina, we observed that NBQX augmented the sucrose-evoked response, suggesting that at least a component of this enhancement may reside in the inner retina. NBQX does not enhance NMDA currents activated by bath applied NMDA, demonstrating that the NBQX-induced enhancement does not result from modulation of NMDA receptors. Voltage-clamp studies, carried out at the appropriate holding potential, indicate that NBQX enhances glutamatergic transmission and reduces inhibitory inputs onto ganglion cells. In the presence of strychnine and picrotoxin, the NBQX-induced enhancement of NMDA currents is eliminated, suggesting that NBQX facilitates the expression of NMDA currents by a selective and partial reduction of inhibitory mechanisms. Additional studies suggest that part of the NMDA enhancement by NBQX is evident at the postsynaptic level, but a presynaptic component probably also participates, perhaps at the level of bipolar cell terminals. One way to account for this observation is to assume that a subpopulation of inhibitory amacrine cells requires KA/AMPA receptors exclusively for their synaptic activation: previous studies of sustained amacrine cells support this interpretation. Thus the NBQX-induced enhancement phenomenon may reflect a network-selective distribution of NMDA and KA/AMPA receptors among third-order neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-196
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 19 1996


  • KA/AMPA receptor
  • N-Methyl-D-aspartate
  • NBQX
  • Retinal ganglion
  • Synaptic response


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