Intracellular recordings from CA1 pyramidal cells in the rat hippocampal slice preparation have been used to study the action of ammonia on inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs). Concentrations of ammonia less than 2 mM had little effect on IPSPs or the action of iontophoretically applied gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This concentration has been reported to be fully effective in blocking hyperpolarizing IPSPs in spinal cord and neocortex. Concentrations above 2 mM did cause a depolarizing shift in the IPSP and GABA reversal potentials, but this effect was accompanied by several generalized effects. The conductance increase during the IPSP but not during the GABA response was depressed, indicating that ammonia has a presynaptic depressant effect on the IPSP. Ammonia also depressed excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs), presynaptic fiber potentials, and pyramidal cell population spikes. In addition, the calcium-dependent potassium response elicited by depolarizing current pulses was depressed. This depression was due, in part, to a depolarizing shift in the reversal potential for this response. Responses recorded with potassium-sensitive microelectrodes indicate that ammonia releases potassium into the extracellular space. The possibility is discussed that the shifts in IPSP reversal potential seen with high concentrations of ammonia are a consequence of generalized nonspecific effects. We conclude that the relative insensitivity of hippocampal IPSPs to blockade by ammonia suggests that a mechanism fundamentally unlike an ammonia-sensitive chloride pump must maintain the hippocampal IPSP gradient.
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