The sense of direction

Mouse and ring attractor

One of the research strands in the lab focuses on the sense of direction, which is supported by the head direction cells, found in a number of brain regions. The cells are thought to be organised as a "ring attractor" — a network in which activity passes from one set of cells to their neighbours, with the direction of activity flow depending on the direction of movement of the head, so that the active cells always correspond to the facing direction of the animal (see the video schematic above). As the system inevitably accumulates errors, it is corrected when the animal sees familiar directional landmarks.

Our questions:
  • How does the system "perceive" visual landmarks?
  • How does the system learn about directional landmarks and their stability?
  • How do the landmarks correct the accumulated error?
  • How does the system learn about different types of environment?
  • How does the system work when movements occur in three dimensions instead of just two?
Relevant recent publications:
  • Mitchell A, Czajkowski, R, Zhang N, Jeffery KJ and Nelson, A (2017) Retrosplenial cortex and its role in spatial cognition Brain and Neuroscience Advances, in press (forthcoming)
  • Page H, Wilson J, Jeffery KJ (2017) A proposed rule for updating of the head direction cell reference frame following rotations in three dimensions J Neurophysiol doi: 10.1152/jn.00501.2017 pdf
  • Lozano Y, Page H, Jacob P-Y, Lomi E, Street J, Jeffery KJ (2017) Retrosplenial and postsubicular head direction cells compared during visual landmark discrimination Brain and Neuroscience Advances doi: 10.1177/2398212817721859 pdf
  • Jacob P-Y J, Casali G, Spieser L, Overington DWU, Page H, Jeffery KJ (2017) An independent, landmark-dominated head direction signal in dysgranular retrosplenial cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 20, 173-175 doi: 10.1038/nn.4465 pdf supp
  • Knight R, Piette C, Page H, Walters D, Marozzi E, Nardini M, Stringer S, Jeffery KJ (2013) Weighted cue integration in the rodent head direction system. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (London), 369(1635):20120512 pdf supp
  • Page H, Walters D, Knight R, Piette C, Jeffery KJ, Stringer S (2013) A theoretical account of cue averaging in the rodent head direction system. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (London), 369(1635):20130283 pdf
  • Knight R, Hayman R, Ginzberg LL, and Jeffery, KJ (2011) Geometric cues influence head direction cells only weakly in non-disoriented rats. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(44):15681-92 pdf