Functional dissection of the head-direction system
Dr Adrian Duszkiewicz
University of Edinburgh
Imagine being home at night during a power outage. Even though you cannot rely on your vision, you should still be able to navigate around the house thanks to the ‘mental map’ stored in your brain. Neurons in several brain areas are thought to act as an internal compass that makes such navigation possible by keeping track of current direction. Each of the ‘head-direction’ neurons that form the compass is activated when an animal’s head is facing a particular direction. It is not yet known how this compass is organised and how it contributes to the mental map of the environment.
The aim of this project is to understand how this mechanism works. I will block the connections between different brain areas that form the head-direction system in order to establish the function of each connection. These connections will then be blocked while mice are trying to find their way in a maze in order to determine how this internal compass allows animals to navigate.
The ability to navigate around the environment is affected in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and a better understanding of the brain’s navigation systems will help us explain what happens when they are compromised.