We used an apparatus in which pieces of dark-adapted amphibian retinas (Rana pipiens, Bufo marinus) obtained under infrared illumination were exposed to precise intervals of 500-nm illuminations, and then frozen by contact of their outer segment surface with a liquid helium-cooled copper mirror. Sections of the frozen outer segment layer were obtained in a cryostat and then assayed for total extractable cyclic 3',5'-guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Significant losses of cGMP with respect to the dark level were evident as early as 60 ms after light onset. With dim subsecond illuminations these losses were surprisingly large, which suggests a previously underestimated magnification in the cGMP cascade, or a transient substantial inhibition of guanylate cyclase activity in combination with increased cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase activity. Within the subsecond period, significant losses that were proportional to light intensity (2-log-unit range) and duration (60-550 ms) were generally not evident. However, losses significantly proportional to these factors became evident with durations of 1 s or longer. When pieces of retina were first illuminated (10 or 60 ms), then held in darkness for increasing periods before freezing, we observed a continuous loss of cGMP during the early postillumination dark period, followed by a recovery of the total cGMP level. The times for recovery to the preillumination level appear to be significantly longer than times reported for the recovery of the photoreceptor membrane potential after similar light exposures.

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