Retinal bipolar cells (BCs) divide photoreceptor output into different channels for the parallel extraction of temporal and chromatic stimulus properties. In rodents, five types of OFF BCs have been differentiated, based on morphological and functional criteria, but their electrophysiological characterization remains incomplete. This study analyzed OFF BCs with the patch clamp technique in acute slices of rat retina. Their specific voltage-dependent currents and glutamate responses are shown to represent individual fingerprints which define the signal processing and filtering properties of each cell type and allow their unequivocal identification. Two additions to the rat BC repertoire are presented: OFF BC-2', a variation of BC-2 with wider axonal arbours and prominent Na(+) currents, is described for the first time in rodents, and OFF BC-3b, previously identified in mouse, is electrophysiologically characterized in rat. Moreover, the glutamate responses of rat OFF BCs are shown to be differentially sensitive to AMPA- and kainate-receptor blockers and to modulation by nitric oxide (NO) through a cGMP-dependent mechanism. These results contribute to our understanding of the diversity and function of bipolar cells in mammals.