A Model of the Rodent Head Direction System

  • Adam N. Elga
  • A. David Redish
  • David S. Touretzky


Head direction cells in the postsubiculum (PoS, also known as dorsal presubiculum) were first described by Ranck et al. [10]. In subsequent work, Taube et al. [14] characterized these cells as having triangular tuning curves: the firing rate drops off linearly from a peak at the preferred direction until it reaches a baseline value. Taube et al. [15] report that PoS cells typically have baseline-to-baseline tuning curve widths of 100°. Similar cells have been found in the anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN) [4, 6, 13]. See Figure 1(b) for a sample PoS tuning curve. These curves can also be modeled very closely by Gaussians with an average standard deviation of approximately 66° [4, 18].


Prefer Direction Tuning Curve Head Direction Mammillary Body Anterior Thalamic Nucleus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. [1]
    M. Bentivoglio, K. Kultas-llinsky, and I. Illinsky. Limbic thalamus: Structure, intrinsic organisation, and connections. In B. A. Vogt and M. Gabriel, editors, Neurobiology of Cingulate Cortex and Limbic Thalamus: A comprehensive handbook, pages 71–122. Birkhauser, Boston, 1993.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    H. T. Blair. A thalamocortical circuit for computing directional heading in the rat. In D. S. Touretzky, M. C. Mozer, and M. E. Hasselmo, editors, Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 8, pages 152–158. MIT Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  3. [3]
    H. T. Blair, B. W. Lipscomb, and P. E. Sharp. Anticipatory time intervals of head-direction cells in the anterior thalamus of the rat, implications for path integration in the head-direction circuit. Manuscript, 1996.Google Scholar
  4. [4]
    H. T. Blair and P. E. Sharp. Anticipatory head direction signals in anterior thalamus: Evidence for a thalamocortical circuit that integrates angular head motion to compute head direction. Journal of Neuroscience, 15 (9): 6260–6270, 1995.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. [5]
    B. Ermentrout and J. Cowan. A mathematical theory of visual hallucination patterns. Biological Cybernetics, 34: 137–150, 1979.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. [6]
    J. J. Knierim, H. S. Kudrimoti, and B. L. McNaughton. Place cells, head direction cells, and the learning of landmark stability. Journal of Neuroscience, 15: 1648–59, 1995.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. [7]
    C. L. Leonhard, R. W. Stackman, and J. S. Taube. Head direction cells recorded from the latermal mammillary nucleus in rats. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 22: 1873, 1996.Google Scholar
  8. [8]
    B. L. McNaughton, L. L. Chen, and E. J. Markus. “Dead reckoning,” landmark learning, and the sense of direction: A neurophysiological and computational hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience,3(2):190202, 1991.Google Scholar
  9. [9]
    D. J. Pinto, J. C. Brumberg, D. J. Simons, and G. B. Ermentrout. A quantitative population model of whisker barrels: Re-examining the wilson-cowan equations. Journal of Computational Neuroscience, 3(3):247ff, 1996.Google Scholar
  10. [10]
    Ranck, Jr., J. B. Head-direction cells in the deep cell layers of dorsal presubiculum in freely moving rats. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 10: 599, 1984.Google Scholar
  11. [11]
    A. D. Redish, A. N. Elga, and D. S. Touretzky. A coupled attractor model of the rodent head direction system. Network, 7 (4): 671–685, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. [12]
    W. E. Skaggs, J. J. Knierim, H. S. Kudrimoti. and B. L. McNaughton. A model of the neural basis of the rat’s sense of direction. In G. Tesauro, D. S. Touretzky, and T. K. Leen, editors, Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 7, pages 173–180. MIT Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  13. [13]
    J. S. Taube. Head direction cells recorded in the anterior thalamic nuclei of freely moving rats. Journal of Neuroscience, 15 (1): 1953–1971, 1995.Google Scholar
  14. [14]
    J. S. Taube, R. 1. Muller, and J. B. Ranck, Jr. Head direction cells recorded from the postsubiculum in freely moving rats. I. Description and quantitative analysis. Journal of Neuroscience, 10: 420–435, 1990.Google Scholar
  15. [15]
    J. S. Taube, R. I. Muller, and J. B. Ranck, Jr. Head direction cells recorded from the postsubiculum in freely moving rats. Il. Effects of environmental manipulations. Journal of Neuroscience, 10: 436–447, 1990.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. [16]
    J. S. Taube and R. U. Muller. Head direction cell activity in the anterior thalamic nuclei, but not the postsubiculum, predicts the animal’s future directional heading. Society for Neuroscience Abtracts,21:946, 1995.Google Scholar
  17. [17]
    H. R. Wilson and J. D. Cowan. Excitatory and inhibitory interactions in localized populations of model neurons. Biophysical Journal, 12(1): 1 24, 1972.Google Scholar
  18. [18]
    K. Zhang. Representation of spatial orientation by the intrinsic dynamics of the head-direction cell ensemble: A theory. Journal of Neuroscience, 16 (6): 2112–2126, 1996.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam N. Elga
    • 1
  • A. David Redish
    • 2
  • David S. Touretzky
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMITCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Computer Science Department and CNBCCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations