Place cells, head direction cells, and the learning of landmark stability

James J. Knierim, Hemant S. Kudrimoti, Bruce L. McNaughton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

401 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that hippocampal place fields are controlled by the salient sensory cues in the environment, in that rotation of the cues causes an equal rotation of the place fields. We trained rats to forage for food pellets in a gray cylinder with a single salient directional cue, a white card covering 90° of the cylinder wall. Half of the rats were disoriented before being placed in the cylinder, in order to disrupt their internal sense of direction. The other half were not disoriented before being placed in the cylinder; for these rats, there was presumably a consistent relationship between the cue card and their internal direction sense. We subsequently recorded hippocampal place cells and thalamic head direction cells from both groups of rats as they moved in the cylinder; between some sessions the cylinder and cue card were rotated to a new direction. All rats were disoriented before recording. Under these conditions, the cue card had much weaker control over the place fields and head direction cells in the rats that had been disoriented during training than in the rats that had not been disoriented. For the former group, the place fields often rotated relative to the cue card or completely changed their firing properties between sessions. In all recording sessions, the head direction cells and place cells were strongly coupled. It appears that the strength of cue control over place cells and head direction cells depends on the rat's learned perception of the stability of the cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1648-1659
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3 I
StatePublished - Mar 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • direction sense
  • head direction cells
  • hippocampus
  • landmark learning
  • path integration
  • place cells
  • spatial learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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