This is what happens to patients with damage to a part of their brain called the retrosplenial cortex, a key region involved in the organ’s inner compass. Despite its importance for navigation, the neurons and circuits it uses to help get people from the office to home remain understudied.

By recording signals from individual neurons in the mouse brain, researchers at the University of Michigan have identified a distinct excitatory neuron in the retrosplenial cortex. The properties of this neuron are ideally suited to encode direction-related information over long durations, like a compass.

“Regular neurons in the cortex are good at encoding directional information only when you are moving your head, but what happens when your head is still? You still need to know what direction you are facing so that you can use this information to plan your route,” said Omar Ahmed, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical engineering, and lead author of the study published in the journal Cell Reports.

“You ideally need another kind of neuron — a neuron that can continuously encode your orientation over long durations even when your head is not moving.”

Read the full article at the University Record.