Do HD cells underlie (angular) path integration in rats?

M. A. A. van der Meer, Emma Wood, Paul A Dudchenko

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


The rodent head-direction (HD) system is commonly believed to play a role in spatial navigation, but the evidence for this is inconclusive: previous experiments have found both correlations and lack of correlations between HD cell firing directions and behaviour. However, since neither of these tasks required the rats to rely on idiothetic (self-motion) cues, we might not expect a consistent relationship between the HD signal and behaviour.
Here we aim to record HD cell activity on a task which requires rats to path integrate, i. e. use idiothetic information only. If the HD signal can be used in navigation, we would expect it to be coupled to spatial behaviour in such a case. A modified Barnes maze was used to exploit rats'natural tendency to carry large food pellets back to a “home” site. The pellets were placed inside a cylinder, which could be raised, lowered and rotated remotely. This allowed the rats to be confined to the centre of the apparatus while the maze and starting locations are cleaned before a return path is chosen.
By rotating the rats below their vestibular threshold, we could assess whether rats were using internal or external cues to guide their return journey. If they are relying on internal cues only, their choice of return should correspond to the subthreshold rotation. Behavioural data show that rats are able to return to their starting location correctly under control (no rotation) conditions, and return to the location corresponding to the angle of the subthreshold rotation when rotated, suggesting that they are path integrating.
Preliminary (anterior thalamic) HD cell recordings show that when the HD cell preferred direction is shifted by the rotation, there is usually a corresponding change in return choice. However, the rotation did not always succeed in changing a cell’s firing direction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Event5th Forum of European Neuroscience - Vienna, Austria
Duration: 8 Jul 200612 Jul 2006


Conference5th Forum of European Neuroscience

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