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Zirkelbach, Johannes; Stemmler, Martin B. ORCID: 0000-0002-9040-0475; Herz, Andreas V. M. ORCID: 0000-0002-3836-565X (2019): Anticipatory neural activity improves the decoding accuracy for dynamic head-direction signals. In: Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 39, No. 15, 2605-18: pp. 2847-2859
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Abstract

Insects and vertebrates harbor specific neurons that encode the animal's head direction (HD) and provide an internal compass for spatial navigation. Each HD cell fires most strongly in one preferred direction. As the animal turns its head, however, HD cells in rat anterodorsal thalamic nucleus (ADN) and other brain areas fire already before their preferred direction is reached, as if the neurons anticipated the future head direction. This phenomenon has been explained at a mechanistic level but a functional interpretation is still missing. To close this gap, we use a computational approach based on the movement statistics of male rats and a simple model for the neural responses within the ADN head-direction network. Network activity is read out using population vectors in a biologically plausible manner, so that only past spikes are taken into account. We find that anticipatory firing improves the representation of the present HD by reducing the motion-induced temporal bias inherent in causal decoding. The amount of anticipation observed in ADN enhances the precision of the HD compass read-out by up to 40%. More generally, our theoretical framework predicts that neural integration times not only reflect biophysical constraints, but also the statistics of behaviorally relevant stimuli; in particular, anticipatory tuning should be found wherever neurons encode sensory signals that change gradually in time.