Head-direction cells in the rat posterior cortex. I. Anatomical distribution and behavioral modulation

Exp Brain Res. 1994;101(1):8-23. doi: 10.1007/BF00243212.


We examined the behavioral modulation of head-directional information processing in neurons of the rat posterior cortices, including the medial prestriate (area Oc2M) and retrosplenial cortex (areas RSA and RSG). Single neurons were recorded in freely moving rats which were trained to perform a spatial working memory task on a radial-arm maze in a cue-controlled room. A dual-light-emitting diode (dual-LED) recording headstage, mounted on the animals' heads, was used to track head position and orientation. Planar modes of motion, such as turns, straight motion, and nonlocomotive states, were categorized using an objective scheme based upon the differential contributions of movement parameters, including linear and angular velocity of the head. Of 662 neurons recorded from the posterior cortices, 41 head-direction (HD) cells were identified based on the criterion of maintained directional bias in the absence of visual cues or in the dark. HD cells constituted 7 of 257 (2.7%) cells recorded in Oc2M, 26 of 311 (8.4%) cells in RSA, and 8 of 94 (8.5%) cells in RSG. Spatial tuning of HD cell firing was modulated by the animal's behaviors in some neurons. The behavioral modulation occurred either at the preferred direction or at all directions. Moreover, the behavioral selectivity was more robust for turns than straight motions, suggesting that the angular movements may significantly contribute to the head-directional processing. These behaviorally selective HD cells were observed most frequently in Oc2M (4/7, 57%), as only 5 of 26 (19%) of RSA cells and none of the RSG cells showed behavioral modulation. These data, taken together with the anatomical evidence for a cascade of projections from Oc2M to RSA and thence to RSG, suggest that there may be a simple association between movement and head-directionality that serves to transform the egocentric movement representation in the neocortex into an allocentric directional representation in the periallocortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Head / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physiology / methods
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344