Head direction maps remain stable despite grid map fragmentation
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFrontiers in Neural Circuits. 2012, 6 . 10.3389/fncir.2012.00009
Areas encoding space in the brain contain both representations of position (place cells and grid cells) and representations of azimuth (head direction cells). Previous studies have already suggested that although grid cells and head direction cells reside in the same brain areas, the calculation of head direction is not dependent on the calculation of position. Here we demonstrate that realignment of grid cells does not affect head direction tuning. We analyzed head direction cell data collected while rats performed a foraging task in a multi-compartment environment (the hairpin maze) vs. an open-field environment, demonstrating that the tuning of head direction cells did not change when the environment was divided into multiple sub-compartments, in the hairpin maze. On the other hand, as we have shown previously (Derdikman et al., 2009), the hexagonal firing pattern expressed by grid cells in the open-field broke down into repeating patterns in similar alleys when rats traversed the multi-compartment hairpin maze. The grid-like firing of conjunctive cells, which express both grid properties and head direction properties in the open-field, showed a selective fragmentation of grid-like firing properties in the hairpin maze, while the head directionality property of the same cells remained unaltered. These findings demonstrate that head direction is not affected during the restructuring of grid cell firing fields as a rat actively moves between compartments, thus strengthening the claim that the head direction system is upstream from or parallel to the grid-place system.