To characterize the transfer of graded potentials and the properties of the associated noise in the photoreceptor-interneuron synapse of the blowfly (Calliphora vicina) compound eye, we recorded voltage responses of photoreceptors (R1-6) and large monopolar cells (LMC) evoked by: (a) steps of light presented in the dark; (b) contrast steps; and (c) pseudorandomly modulated contrast stimuli at backgrounds covering 6 log intensity units. Additionally, we made recordings from photoreceptor axon terminals. Increased light adaptation gradually changed the synaptic signal transfer from low-pass to band-pass filtering. This was accompanied by decreased synaptic delay and increased contrast gain, but the overall synaptic gain and the intrinsic noise (i.e., transmission noise) were reduced. Based on these results, we describe a descriptive synaptic model, in which the kinetics of the tonic transmitter (histamine) release from the photoreceptor axon terminals change with mean photoreceptor depolarization. During signal transmission, tonic transmitter release is augmented by voltage-dependent contrast-enhancing mechanisms in the photoreceptor axons that produce fast transients from the rising phases of the photoreceptor responses and add these enhanced voltages to the original photoreceptor responses. The model can predict the experimental findings and it agrees with the recently proposed theory of maximizing sensory information.

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