Existence of 3D compass in the brains of mammals has been shown by scientists for the first time ever. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute explained a demonstration that the brains of bats has neurons which sense the direction in which the head is facing and hence support its motility in 3D space.
It was disclosed in the study for the first time as to how the calculation of a sense of the vertical direction in combination with the horizontal is carried out by the brain. It was then unveiled that in neural compass, these directions are independently computed at varying levels of complexity.
The researchers found that head-direction cells in one section of the hippocampal formation got started due to the orientation of the bat relative to the horizontal surface. That helps the animal’s orientation in two dimensions.
As per the researchers, the 2D head-direction cells could behave as for locomotion along surfaces, similar to humans when driving cars. On the other hand, the 3D cells could be important for complex mobility in space, such as climbing tree branches or piloting an aircraft.
The thought that head-direction cells in the hippocampal formation behave as a 3D neural cpmpass for the bats is hence supported by the study. According to the scientists, the same is also applicable to animals without wings.
“Basically what we found is that if you want to direct your head at a tree branch that’s at a certain elevation and angle from you. You want to compute this 3D direction. This ‘3D head direction cell’ can do that,” says Weizmann neuroscientist Arseny Finkelstein, a co-author of the bat study. The study has been published in the journal Nature.