Structure and function of the vertebrate magnetic sense

Nature. 1997 Nov 27;390(6658):371-6. doi: 10.1038/37057.


Some vertebrates can navigate over long distances using the Earth's magnetic field, but the sensory system that they use to do so has remained a mystery. Here we describe the key components of a magnetic sense underpinning this navigational ability in a single species, the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). We report behavioural and electrophysiological responses to magnetic fields and identify an area in the nose of the trout where candidate magnetoreceptor cells are located. We have tracked the sensory pathway from these newly identified candidate magnetoreceptor cells to the brain and associated the system with a learned response to magnetic fields.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide / analysis
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetics*
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / cytology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*


  • Ferrosoferric Oxide