Interplexiform cells contact cone horizontal cells in the fish retina and probably release dopamine at synaptic sites. The effects of dopamine, certain related compounds, and light and dark regimes were tested on the intracellularly recorded activity of horizontal cells in the superfused carp retina to elucidate the functional role of the interplexiform cell. Dopamine application onto retinae kept in the dark for 30-40 min increased the size of the responses of cone horizontal cells to small-spot stimuli but decreased response size to large- and full-field stimuli. Dopamine also altered the response waveform of these cells; the transient at response onset increased in size and the depolarizing afterpotential decreased in size. Haloperidol, a dopamine antagonist, blocked these effects of dopamine application. Forskolin, an adenylate cyclase activator, increased the size of the responses of the cells to small-spot stimuli. Superfusion of vasoactive intestinal peptide did not produce any effects on horizontal cells. The results indicate that dopamine produces multiple physiological effects on cone horizontal cells by activation of an intracellular enzyme system. We propose that some of these effects are probably related to an uncoupling of the gap junctions between horizontal cells, but that other effects are most likely not explained on this basis and reflect additional changes induced in the cells by dopamine. After prolonged periods of darkness (100-110 min), compared with short periods (30-40 min), L-type cone horizontal cells exhibited responses similar to those obtained during dopamine application. Dim flickering or continuous light backgrounds did not mimic the effects of dopamine. Although dopamine application onto retinae after short-term darkness produced dramatic effects on L-type cone horizontal cells, little or no effect was observed when dopamine was applied while the effects of a previous dopamine application were still present or after prolonged darkness. These results suggest that interplexiform cells may release dopamine after prolonged darkness and that interplexiform cells may regulate lateral inhibitory effects mediated by L-type cone horizontal cells as a function of time in the dark.