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Spatial processing

The place of head-direction cells

In rats, spatial navigation involves hippocampal place cells, which encode the animal's location in an environment, and head-direction cells, which are located outside the hippocampus and encode the orientation of the animal's head. This study showed that in bats exploring an open-field arena, many hippocampal neurons encode both location and head direction. Moreover, in some neurons, the head-direction tuning was preserved even when the animal was outside the neuron's place field. Further analysis may reveal the existence of similar place–head-direction cells in rats. Alternatively, there may be species differences in neural encoding of head direction.


  1. Rubin, A., Yartsev, M. M. & Ulanovsky, N. Encoding of head direction by hippocampal place cells in bats. J. Neurosci. 34, 1067–1080 (2014)

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Welberg, L. The place of head-direction cells. Nat Rev Neurosci 15, 136 (2014).

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