Intracellular microelectrode techniques were used to characterize the electrical responses of the bovine retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)-choroid to epinephrine (EP) and several other catecholamines that are putative paracrine signals between the neural retina and the RPE. Nanomolar amounts of EP or norepinephrine (NEP), added to the apical bath, caused a series of conductance and voltage changes, first at the basolateral or choroid-facing membrane and then at the apical or retina-facing membrane. The relative potency of several adrenergic agonists and antagonists indicates that EP modulation of RPE transport begins with the activation of apical alpha-1-adrenergic receptors. The membrane-permeable calcium (Ca2+) buffer, amyl-BAPTA (1,2-bis(o-aminophenoxy)-ethane-N,N,N',N' tetraacetic acid) inhibited the EP-induced voltage and conductance changes by approximately 50-80%, implicating [Ca2+]i as a second messenger. This conclusion is supported by experiments using the Ca2+ ionophore A23187, which mimics the effects of EP. The basolateral membrane voltage response to EP was blocked by lowering cell Cl, by the presence of DIDS (4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid) in the basal bath, and by current clamping VB to the Cl equilibrium potential. In the latter experiments the EP-induced conductance changes were unaltered, indicating that EP increases basolateral membrane Cl conductance independent of voltage. The EP-induced change in basolateral Cl conductance was followed by a secondary decrease in apical membrane K conductance (approximately 50%) as measured by delta [K]o-induced diffusion potentials. Decreasing apical K from 5 to 2 mM in the presence of EP mimicked the effect of light on RPE apical and basolateral membrane voltage. These results indicate that EP may be an important paracrine signal that provides exquisite control of RPE physiology.

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