Directional tuning in the hippocampal formation of birds

Elhanan Ben-Yishay, Ksenia Krivoruchko, Shaked Ron, Nachum Ulanovsky, Dori Derdikman, Yoram Gutfreund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Birds strongly rely on spatial memory and navigation. Therefore, it is of utmost interest to reveal how space is represented in the avian brain. Here we used tetrodes to record neurons from the hippocampal formation of Japanese quails—a ground-dwelling species—while the quails roamed in an open-field arena. Whereas spatially modulated cells (place cells, grid cells, border cells) were generally not encountered, the firing rate of about 12% of the neurons was unimodally and significantly modulated by the head azimuth—i.e., these were head-direction cells (HD cells). Typically, HD cells were maximally active at one preferred direction and minimally at the opposite null direction, with preferred directions spanning all 360° across the population. The preferred direction was independent of the animal's position and speed and was stable during the recording session. The HD tuning was broader compared to that of HD cells in rodents, and most cells had non-zero baseline firing in all directions. However, similar to findings in rodents, the HD tuning usually rotated with the rotation of a salient visual cue in the arena. Thus, these findings support the existence of an allocentric HD representation in the quail hippocampal formation and provide the first demonstration of HD cells in birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2592-2602.e4
JournalCurrent biology : CB
Issue number12
StatePublished - 21 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • bird navigation
  • head-direction cells
  • hippocampus
  • quails
  • spatial representation


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