Responses were evoked from ganglion cells in catfish and frog retinas by a Gaussian modulation of the mean luminance. An algorithm was devised to decompose intracellularly recorded responses into the slow and spike components and to extract the time of occurrence of a spike discharge. The dynamics of both signals were analyzed in terms of a series of first-through third-order kernels obtained by cross-correlating the slow (analog) or spike (discrete or point process) signals against the white-noise input. We found that, in the catfish, (a) the slow signals were composed mostly of postsynaptic potentials, (b) their linear components reflected the dynamics found in bipolar cells or in the linear response component of type-N (sustained) amacrine cells, and (c) their nonlinear components were similar to those found in either type-N or type-C (transient) amacrine cells. A comparison of the dynamics of slow and spike signals showed that the characteristic linear and nonlinear dynamics of slow signals were encoded into a spike train, which could be recovered through the cross-correlation between the white-noise input and the spike (point process signals. In addition, well-defined spike correlates could predict the observed slow potentials. In the spike discharges from frog ganglion cells, the linear (or first-order) kernels were all inhibitory, whereas the second-order kernels had characteristics of on-off transient excitation. The transient and sustained amacrine cells similar to those found in catfish retina were the sources of the nonlinear excitation. We conclude that bipolar cells and possibly the linear part of the type-N cell response are the source of linear, either excitatory or inhibitory, components of the ganglion cell responses, whereas amacrine cells are the source of the cells' static nonlinearity.

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