Updating of the spatial reference frame of head direction cells in response to locomotion in the vertical plane.

Journal of neurophysiology

PubMedID: 23114216

Taube JS, Wang SS, Kim SY, Frohardt RJ. Updating of the spatial reference frame of head direction cells in response to locomotion in the vertical plane. J Neurophysiol. 2013;109(3):873-88.
Many species navigate in three dimensions and are required to maintain accurate orientation while moving in an Earth vertical plane. Here we explored how head direction (HD) cells in the rat anterodorsal thalamus responded when rats locomoted along a 360° spiral track that was positioned vertically within the room at the N, S, E, or W location. Animals were introduced into the vertical plane either through passive placement (experiment 1) or by allowing them to run up a 45° ramp from the floor to the vertically positioned platform (experiment 2). In both experiments HD cells maintained direction-specific firing in the vertical plane with firing properties that were indistinguishable from those recorded in the horizontal plane. Interestingly, however, the cells' preferred directions were linked to different aspects of the animal's environment and depended on how the animal transitioned into the vertical plane. When animals were passively placed onto the vertical surface, the cells switched from using the room (global cues) as a reference frame to using the vertically positioned platform (local cues) as a reference frame, independent of where the platform was located. In contrast, when animals self-locomoted into the vertical plane, the cells' preferred directions remained anchored to the three-dimensional room coordinates and their activity could be accounted for by a simple 90° rotation of the floor's horizontal coordinate system to the vertical plane. These findings highlight the important role that active movement signals play for maintaining and updating spatial orientation when moving in three dimensions.