Head-direction (HD) neurons are thought to provide the mammalian brain with an internal sense of direction. These cells, which selectively increase their firing when the animal's head points in a specific direction, use the spike rate to encode HD with a high signal-to-noise ratio. In the present work, we analyzed spike train features of presubicular HD cells recorded juxtacellularly in passively rotated rats. We found that HD neurons could be classified into two groups on the basis of their propensity to fire spikes at short interspike intervals. "Bursty" neurons displayed distinct spike waveforms and were weakly but significantly more modulated by HD compared with "nonbursty" cells. In a subset of HD neurons, we observed the occurrence of spikelets, small-amplitude "spike-like" events, whose HD tuning was highly correlated to that of the co-recorded juxtacellular spikes. Bursty and nonbursty HD cells, as well as spikelets, were also observed in freely moving animals during natural behavior. We speculate that spike bursts and spikelets might contribute to presubicular HD coding by enhancing its accuracy and transmission reliability to downstream targets. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We provide evidence that presubicular head-direction (HD) cells can be classified into two classes (bursty and nonbursty) on the basis of their propensity to fire spikes at short interspike intervals. Bursty cells displayed distinct electrophysiological properties and stronger directional tuning compared with nonbursty neurons. We also provide evidence for the occurrence of spikelets in a subset of HD cells. These electrophysiological features (spike bursts and spikelets) might contribute to the precision and robustness of the presubicular HD code.
Keywords: head direction; hippocampus; neurophysiology; presubiculum; spatial navigation.