Role of the head-direction signal in spatial tasks: when and how does it guide behavior?

J Neurophysiol. 2018 Jul 1;120(1):78-87. doi: 10.1152/jn.00560.2017. Epub 2018 Mar 14.


Since their discovery, mammalian head-direction (HD) cells have been extensively researched in terms of sensory origins, external cue control, and circuitry. However, the relationship of HD cells to behavior is not yet fully understood. In the current review, we examine the anatomical clues for information flow in the HD circuit and an emerging body of evidence that links neural activity of HD cells and spatial orientation. We hypothesize from results obtained in spatial orientation tasks involving HD cells that when properly aligned with available external cues, the HD signal could be used for guiding rats to a goal location. However, contradictory inputs from separate sensory systems may reduce the influence of the HD signal such that animals are able to switch between this and other systems according to their impact on behavior.

Keywords: cognitive map; head-direction cells; hippocampus; orientation; spatial behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Head Movements*
  • Humans
  • Orientation, Spatial*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*