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Bothe, Maximilian S.; Luksch, Harald; Straka, Hans ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2874-0441 and Kohl, Tobias (2018): Synaptic convergence of afferent inputs in primary infrared-sensitive nucleus (LTTD) neurons of rattlesnakes (Crotalinae as the origin for sensory contrast enhancement. In: Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 221, No. 17

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Pitvipers have a specialized sensory system in the upper jaw to detect infrared (IR) radiation. The bilateral pit organs resemble simple pinhole cameras that map IR objects onto the sensory epithelium as blurred representations of the environment. Trigeminal afferents transmit information about changing temperature patterns as neuronal spike discharge in a topographic manner to the hindbrain nucleus of the lateral descending trigeminal tract (LTTD). A presumed, yet so far unknown neuronal connectivity within this central nucleus exerts a synaptic computation that constrains the relatively large receptive field of primary afferent fibers. Here, we used intracellular recordings of LTTD neurons in isolated rattlesnake brains to decipher the spatio-temporal pattern of excitatory and inhibitory responses following electrical stimulation of single and multiple peripheral pit organ-innervating nerve branches. The responses of individual neurons consisted of complex spike sequences that derived from spatially and temporally specific interactions between excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs from the same as well as from adjacent peripheral nerve terminal areas. This pattern complies with a central excitation that is flanked by a delayed lateral inhibition, thereby enhancing the contrast of IR sensory input, functionally reminiscent of the computations for contrast enhancement in the peripheral visual system.

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