Animals are fantastic navigators. To scavenge for food, animals must maintain and exploit a detailed cognitive map of their environment. To do so, animals must integrate multiple modalities of sensory information – such as vision, olfaction, and vestibular information. Inside the brains of rats, we see single cells whose activity reflects information about the animal’s spatial location (place cells, grid cells) and directional bearing (head direction cells). These head direction cells feed into higher spatial networks such as the grid cell system of the entorhinal cortex, and provide us with a simple 1-dimensional readout of an animal’s sense of direction. This makes them excellent models for how information from multiple senses can integrated by the brain into a single spatial representation.
My work concerns how information about visual landmark is integrated into the head direction signal. To probe this, I utilise a combination of lesions, optogenetics and chronic electrophysiology in behaving animals to ask whether postsubicular head direction cells can be controlled by visual landmarks in the absence of visual processing by the lateral geniculate nucleus.
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