To test the hypothesis that cyclic GMP is the internal messenger coupling rhodopsin activation to membrane excitation in vertebrate rod photoreceptors, we used a novel technique combining measurement of membrane currents of isolated salamander rods with a suction electrode and the introduction of cyclic GMP through a whole-cell recording patch pipette. Rupture of an attached patch was followed by a rapid (∼10 s), approximately 10-fold increase in outer-segment membrane current, all of which was light-sensitive. There was little change in the rising phase of the response to a saturating flash, but the duration of the saturated phase of the response increased ∼10-fold. The effects reversed completely within 3-4 min after withdrawal of the cyclic GMP-containing patch pipette. A formal kinetic analysis shows that the first two observations are inconsistent with the postulate that cyclic GMP opens the light-sensitive conductance by simple binding to channels, unless free cyclic GMP in the outer segment is assumed to be much lower than published estimates, and most of the outer-segment cyclic GMP is bound and inexchangeable on the timescale of 200 ms. Furthermore, our results suggest that rod cyclic GMP is not involved solely in keeping the light-sensitive conductance open, but may also affect the activity of the phosphodiesterase that mediates cyclic GMP hydrolysis.
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