ON-OFF amacrine cells were studied with whole cell recording techniques and intracellular staining methods using intact retina-eyecup preparations of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and the mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). Morphological characterization of these cells included three-dimensional reconstruction methods based on serial optical sections obtained with a confocal microscope. Some cells had their detailed morphology digitized with a computer-assisted tracing system and converted to compartmental models for computer simulations. The dendrites of ON-OFF amacrine cells have spines and numerous varicosities. Physiological recordings confirmed that ON-OFF amacrine cells generate both large- and small-amplitude impulses attributed, respectively, to somatic and dendritic generation sites. Using a multichannel model for impulse generation, computer simulations were carried out to evaluate how impulses are likely to propagate throughout these structures. We conclude that the ON-OFF amacrine cell is organized with multifocal dendritic impulse generating sites and that both dendritic and somatic impulse activity contribute to the functional repertoire of these interneurons: locally generated dendritic impulses can provide regional activation, while somatic impulse activity results in rapid activation of the entire dendritic tree.
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