Infrared (IR) responsive nuclei in the rattlesnake Crotalus viridis were identified by using 14C-2-deoxyglucose (2DG) and autoradiography. Following 2DG intracardial injection, the IR-sensitive pit organ was stimulated periodically with an IR stimulus for 5 hours. The nucleus of the lateral descending trigeminal tract (LTTD, the primary IR sensory nucleus) was labelled heavily with 2DG. Labelling was bilateral, but somewhat heavier ipsilateral to the stimulated pit organ. The nucleus reticularis caloris (RC, the secondary nucleus of the IR system) was lightly labelled ipsilaterally. The middle laminae of the contralateral optic tectum (which contain IR-responsive units) were distinctly labelled; the corresponding layers of the ipsilateral tectum were lightly labelled. A subcerebellar nucleus not known to be part of the IR system was heavily labelled bilaterally. No consistent labelling was found in the diencephalon or telencephalon.
Since units in the LTTD do not respond to stimulation of the contralateral pit yet the LTTD is labelled with 2DG when there is contralateral pit stimulation, several controls were carried out. Unilateral injection of 3H-proline into LTTD revealed no projection to the contralateral LTTD. In a monocularly, visually stimulated animal with both pits occluded, the LTTD still showed heavy but equal 2DG labelling bilaterally. In addition, the outer layers of the contralateral optic tectum were heavily labelled. No 2DG labelling of the LTTD was obtained when branches of the trigeminal nerve innervating the LTTD were previously cut.
These results suggest that much of the 2DG labelling in the LTTD is due to spontaneous ongoing activity from the pit organ rather than from IR evoked activity. Using single-unit recording, almost all LTTD units were found to have high spontaneous firing rates. IR stimulation increases the firing rate above spontaneous levels. When the afferent trigeminal nerves were cut, LTTD cell activity was almost totally silenced.