The time course of the rate of oxygen consumption (QO2) after a single flash of light has been measured in 300-micrometers slices of drone retina at 22 degrees C. To measure delta QO2(t), the change in QO2 from its level in darkness, the transients of the partial pressure of O2 (PO2) were recorded with O2 microelectrodes simultaneously in two sites in the slice and delta QO2 was calculated by a computer using Fourier transforms. After a 40-ms flash of intense light, delta QO2, reached a peak of 40 microliters O2/g.min and then declined exponentially to the baseline with a time constant tau 1 = 4.96 +/- 0.49 s (SD, n = 10). The rising phase was characterized by a time constant tau 2 = 1.90 +/- 0.35 s (SD, n = 10). The peak amplitude of delta QO2 increased linearly with the log of the light intensity. Replacement of Na+ by choline, known to decrease greatly the light-induced transmembrane current, caused a 63% decrease of delta QO2. With these changes, however, the kinetics of delta QO2 (t) were unchanged. This suggest that the recovery phase is rate-limited by a single reaction with apparent first-order kinetics. Evidence is provided that suggests that this reaction may be the working of the sodium pump. Exposure of the retina to high concentrations of ouabain or strophanthidin (inhibitors of the sodium pump) reduced the peak amplitude of delta QO2 by approximately 80% and increased tau 1. The increase of tau 1 was an exponential function of the time of exposure to the cardioactive steroids. Hence, it seems likely that the greatest part of delta QO2 is used for the working of the pump, whose activity is the mechanism underlying the rate constant of the descending limb of delta QO2 (t).

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