The retina of the skate (Raja erinacea) contains at least 2 types of cell (amacrines and bipolars) that can be visualized with an antiserum against serotonin. We have employed serotonin immunocytochemistry in combination with pharmacological manipulation of retinal tissue to analyze physiological properties of serotonergic amacrine cells and serotonin-accumulating bipolar cells. Excitatory amino acids (NMDA, aspartate) had no detectable effects on serotonin-immunoreactivity in bipolar cells but decreased staining in amacrine cells. High K+ Ringer increased staining in bipolar cell somata, however, it depleted the inner plexiform layer of the retina of serotonin. Zimelidine, a serotonin uptake inhibitor, completely blocked serotonin accumulation by bipolar cells but had no effect on amacrine cells, whereas incubation of the retinas in fluoxetine (Prozac), a different inhibitor of serotonin uptake, did not block serotonin accumulation into bipolar cells which was actually enhanced in some cases. We conclude that amacrine and bipolar cells of the skate retina employ two different serotonin uptake carrier systems, thus generating two distinct pharmacological components that are capable of interacting with each other as they compete for extracellular serotonin. Similar mechanisms may exist in the vertebrate CNS and further examination of the interaction of these systems could provide important insights into the action and possible side effects of serotonin-related drugs.