Excitatory amino acids are presumed to be the transmitter of retinal bipolar cells. However, one of the essential criteria for the identification of the transmitter, its release from the cells upon depolarization, has not been demonstrated. This article examines the release of endogenous excitatory amino acids from bipolar cells and correlates this release with the influx of Ca2+. Bipolar cells with a large, bulblike axon terminal (ON-type cells with mixed inputs from rods and cones) were enzymatically isolated from the goldfish retina. Horizontal cells dissociated from the catfish retina were used as a probe of excitatory amino acids, because these cells can detect submicromolar concentrations of L-glutamate with high selectivity. An isolated bipolar cell was closely apposed to a dissociated horizontal cell, and each cell was voltage clamped by a patch pipette in the whole- cell clamp configuration. When the bipolar cell was depolarized from - 60 mV to a potential more positive than -40 mV using a 500-msec voltage pulse, an outward current (greater than 20 pA) was recorded from the apposed horizontal cell, which was maintained at +40 mV. The reversal potential of the current induced by the substance released from bipolar cells (Irs) was close to 0 mV and was almost identical to the responses evoked with ionophoretically applied L-glutamate. Both reversal potentials were shifted to the same, more negative value when the external Na+ was replaced with choline. Furthermore, the Irs was suppressed reversibly by the application of kynurenic acid, a glutamate antagonist. When the Ca current (ICa) of the bipolar cell was blocked by Cd2+, the Irs also disappeared. The peak amplitude of Irs was closely related to that of the ICa. We conclude that mixed rod/cone ON- type bipolar cells of the goldfish retina release an endogenous excitatory amino acid or a closely related compound in a Ca(2+)- dependent manner.