Environmental Anchoring of Head Direction in a Computational Model of Retrosplenial Cortex.
Many neurons throughout the rat limbic system discharge in relation to the animal's directional heading with respect to its environment. These so-called head direction (HD) cells exhibit characteristics of persistent neural activity. This article summarizes where HD cells are found, their major properties, and some of the important experiments that have been conducted to elucidate how this signal is generated. The number of HD and angular head velocity cells was estimated for several brain areas involved in the generation of the HD signal, including the postsubiculum, anterior dorsal thalamus, lateral mammillary nuclei and dorsal tegmental nucleus. The HD cell signal has many features in common with what is known about how neural integration is accomplished in the oculomotor system. The nature of the HD cell signal makes it an attractive candidate for using neural network models to elucidate the signal's underlying mechanisms. The conditions that any network model must satisfy in order to accurately represent how the nervous system generates this signal are highlighted and areas where key information is missing are discussed.