The use of the Earth's magnetic field by many species for navigation has been widely documented although the sensory mechanism for detection remains elusive. Recent evidence suggests that the lagena, the third vestibular otolith receptor found in many non-mammalian vertebrates, may provide the answer. In birds and fish, the lagena epithelium has been shown to have a high content of iron and zinc, elements that could form magnetite compounds (e.g., Fe3O4), while the other two vestibular otolith organs (utricle and saccule) do not. X-ray spectroscopy and magnetic force microscopy will be used to examine the otolith organ receptor for the presence of magnetic dipoles (Aim 1). If present in the lagena, the dipoles could serve as a biophysical transducer for orientation in a magnetic field. Differing receptor hair cell polarizations across the lagena surface could then provide a spatial map upon which lagena afferents signal directions of orientation relative to the Earth main field, essentially acting as a magnetic compass. Whether lagena afferents encode magnetic spatial information will be examined using extracellular neural recording techniques (Aim 2). Other lagena afferents may encode linear accelerations in a vertical head plane. Both the spatial tuning and dynamic properties to linear motion and magnetic field activation will be examined in lagena afferents to determine if multimodal place fields exist in the lagena (Aim 2). Behaviorally, lagenar nerve section has been shown to disrupt normal homing ability in birds (Harada, 2002). We hypothesize that the lagena is involved in providing information to construct a geomagnetic map by central neurons for use in spatial navigation. In the final Aim (Aim 3), ablation studies will examine the effects upon magnetic field detection using behavioral orientation paradigms. Whether and how integration of magnetic compass, vestibular, and visual signals contribute to navigation and spatial orientation forms an exciting new direction of research that the current proposed investigation represents an integral initial step. ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Auditory System Study Section (AUD)
Program Officer
Platt, Christopher
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code
Wu, Le-Qing; Dickman, J David (2012) Neural correlates of a magnetic sense. Science 336:1054-7
Zakir, M; Wu, L-Q; Dickman, J D (2012) Morphology and innervation of the vestibular lagena in pigeons. Neuroscience 209:97-107
Wu, Le-Qing; Dickman, J David (2011) Magnetoreception in an avian brain in part mediated by inner ear lagena. Curr Biol 21:418-23
McArthur, K L; Zakir, M; Haque, A et al. (2011) Spatial and temporal characteristics of vestibular convergence. Neuroscience 192:361-71
McArthur, Kimberly L; Dickman, J David (2011) State-dependent sensorimotor processing: gaze and posture stability during simulated flight in birds. J Neurophysiol 105:1689-700
McArthur, Kimberly L; Dickman, J David (2011) Behavioral state modulates the activity of brainstem sensorimotor neurons. J Neurosci 31:16700-8
Huss, David; Navaluri, Rena; Faulkner, Kathleen F et al. (2010) Development of otolith receptors in Japanese quail. Dev Neurobiol 70:436-55
Haque, Asim; Zakir, Mridha; Dickman, J David (2009) Regeneration of vestibular horizontal semicircular canal afferents in pigeons. J Neurophysiol 102:1274-86
McArthur, Kimberly L; Dickman, J David (2008) Canal and otolith contributions to compensatory tilt responses in pigeons. J Neurophysiol 100:1488-97
Haque, Asim; Zakir, Mridha; Dickman, J David (2008) Recovery of gaze stability during vestibular regeneration. J Neurophysiol 99:853-65

Showing the most recent 10 out of 11 publications