The membrane guanylate cyclase, ROS-GC, that synthesizes cyclic GMP for use as a second messenger for visual transduction in retinal rods and cones, is stimulated by bicarbonate. Bicarbonate acts directly on ROS-GC1, because it enhanced the enzymatic activity of a purified, recombinant fragment of bovine ROS-GC1 consisting solely of the core catalytic domain. Moreover, recombinant ROS-GC1 proved to be a true sensor of bicarbonate, rather than a sensor for CO. Access to bicarbonate differed in rods and cones of larval salamander, , of unknown sex. In rods, bicarbonate entered at the synapse and diffused to the outer segment, where it was removed by Cl-dependent exchange. In contrast, cones generated bicarbonate internally from endogenous CO or from exogenous CO that was present in extracellular solutions of bicarbonate. Bicarbonate production from both sources of CO was blocked by the carbonic anhydrase inhibitor, acetazolamide. Carbonic anhydrase II expression was verified immunohistochemically in cones but not in rods. In addition, cones acquired bicarbonate at their outer segments as well as at their inner segments. The multiple pathways for access in cones may support greater uptake of bicarbonate than in rods and buffer changes in its intracellular concentration.