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J Neurosci. 1998 Nov 1;18(21):9020-37.

Firing properties of rat lateral mammillary single units: head direction, head pitch, and angular head velocity.

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Department of Psychology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Neurosci. 2003 Feb 15;23(4):1555-1556.


Many neurons in the rat anterodorsal thalamus (ADN) and postsubiculum (PoS) fire selectively when the rat points its head in a specific direction in the horizontal plane, independent of the animal's location and ongoing behavior. The lateral mammillary nuclei (LMN) are interconnected with both the ADN and PoS and, therefore, are in a pivotal position to influence ADN/PoS neurophysiology. To further understand how the head direction (HD) cell signal is generated, we recorded single neurons from the LMN of freely moving rats. The majority of cells discharged as a function of one of three types of spatial correlates: (1) directional heading, (2) head pitch, or (3) angular head velocity (AHV). LMN HD cells exhibited higher peak firing rates and greater range of directional firing than that of ADN and PoS HD cells. LMN HD cells were modulated by angular head velocity, turning direction, and anticipated the rat's future HD by a greater amount of time (approximately 95 msec) than that previously reported for ADN HD cells (approximately 25 msec). Most head pitch cells discharged when the rostrocaudal axis of the rat's head was orthogonal to the horizontal plane. Head pitch cell firing was independent of the rat's location, directional heading, and its body orientation (i.e., the cell discharged whenever the rat pointed its head up, whether standing on all four limbs or rearing). AHV cells were categorized as fast or slow AHV cells depending on whether their firing rate increased or decreased in proportion to angular head velocity. These data demonstrate that LMN neurons code direction and angular motion of the head in both horizontal and vertical planes and support the hypothesis that the LMN play an important role in processing both egocentric and allocentric spatial information.

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