We treated Limulus ventral photoreceptors with the phosphatase inhibitors fluoride, vanadate, and GTP-gamma-S [guanosine-5'0-(3-thiotriphosphate)] under various conditions of illumination and external calcium concentrations. In the dark in low-calcium (1 mM) artificial seawater (ASW), fluoride-induced discrete waves cluster together in time. Under these conditions, the intervals between waves were found to be correlated, and there were excess short intervals beyond the number expected from an exponential interval distribution. To assess the effects of the inhibitors on the light response, we stimulated ventral receptors with a series of dim flashes and averaged the current response under voltage clamp. In ASW, vanadate and GTP-gamma-S prolong the decay of the averaged response to dim test flashes, but prolongation does not always accompany the induction of discrete waves in the dark. Prolongation induced by vanadate in normal-calcium (10 mM) ASW was enhanced in low-calcium (1 mM Ca2+) ASW. Many individual response records suggest that prolongation results from extra discrete waves late in the light response, whereas others reveal long-lasting complex waveforms that cannot easily be resolved into discrete waves. The apparent effect of the inhibitors on the light response is to allow a single photoactivated rhodopsin molecule to produce multiple discrete waves and complex long-lasting events. We suggest that both prolongation of the light response and clustering of waves in the dark result from inhibition of a step in the pathway of visual transduction, in which GTP hydrolysis normally helps to turn off the production of both light-evoked and spontaneous waves.

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