Neural Correlates of a Magnetic Sense

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  26 Apr 2012:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1216567

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text


Many animals rely on the Earth's magnetic field for spatial orientation and navigation. However, how the brain receives and interprets magnetic field information is unknown. Support for the existence of magnetic receptors in the vertebrate retina, beak, nose, and inner ear has been proposed and immediate gene expression markers have identified several brain regions activated by magnetic stimulation, but the central neural mechanisms underlying magnetoreception remain unknown. Here, we describe neuronal responses in the pigeon's brainstem that show how single cells encode magnetic field direction, intensity, and polarity—qualities that are necessary to derive an internal model representing directional heading and geosurface location. Our findings demonstrate a neural substrate for a vertebrate magnetic sense.

View Full Text