The head direction signal: origins and sensory-motor integration

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2007:30:181-207. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.29.051605.112854.


Navigation first requires accurate perception of one's spatial orientation within the environment, which consists of knowledge about location and directional heading. Cells within several limbic system areas of the mammalian brain discharge allocentrically as a function of the animal's directional heading, independent of the animal's location and ongoing behavior. These cells are referred to as head direction (HD) cells and are believed to encode the animal's perceived directional heading with respect to its environment. Although HD cells are found in several areas, the principal circuit for generating this signal originates in the dorsal tegmental nucleus and projects serially, with some reciprocal connections, to the lateral mammillary nucleus --> anterodorsal thalamus --> PoS, and terminates in the entorhinal cortex. HD cells receive multimodal information about landmarks and self-generated movements. Vestibular information appears critical for generating the directional signal, but motor/proprioceptive and landmark information are important for updating it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology