Rates of cerebral glucose utilization were measured by means of the autoradiographic 2-deoxy-D-[1-14C] glucose technique in 70 anatomically discrete central nervous structures in conscious awake rats following unilateral intranigral application of the GABAergic agonist muscimol. Intranigral injection of 1.3 microliters 1 microM muscimol (0.15 ng) induced increases in glucose consumption locally in the substantia nigra reticulata (by 87%), distally in the contralateral reticulata, red nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and prefrontal cortex, and bilaterally in the pyriform cortex, as compared to values in control animals. Intranigral injection of 1.3 microliters 1 mM muscimol (150 ng) effected a local metabolic activation in the substantia nigra reticulata (by 111% compared to the control group) and in compacta (by 18%), as well as a distal activation in the contralateral reticulata (by 39%) and contralateral compacta (by 29%). Beyond the structures affected by the lower dose, the higher dose of muscimol elicited widespread bilateral increases in glucose metabolism in the rat brain. Among the principal nigral reticulata efferent projections, the deep superior colliculi displayed ipsilateral metabolic activation (by 30%), whereas the parafascicular, mediodorsal, and ventromedial thalamic projecting areas, as well as the pedunculopontine nucleus, displayed bilateral activations compared to the control animals. The ventromedial and ventrolateral thalamic nuclei contralateral to the injected substantia nigra reticulata were 20% activated compared to the ipsilateral homologous structures and 30% activated compared to the control rats. The areas that send afferent projections to the reticulata (globus pallidus, entopeduncular and subthalamic nuclei) were mainly activated contralateral to the injected reticulata compared to values for control animals. In general, following intranigral muscimol (1 mM) injection, glucose metabolism was activated to a larger extent on the side contralateral to the injection than on the ipsilateral side. It is suggested that the present findings are due to a presynaptic nigral effect of muscimol on the GABAergic autoreceptors of the striatonigral terminals and to a consequent disinhibition of the reticulata GABAergic output.