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Spatial orientation, navigation and vestibular function


Primary Investigator:

Virginia L. Flanagin PhD


Mailing Address Physical Address
Center for Sensomotor Research
Univerisity Hospital Munich-Grosshadern
Marchioninistr. 23
81377 Munich, Germany
Neurological Forschungshaus
Marchioninistr. 23

Entrance from the Feodor Lynen Str.

Tel: + 49 (0) 89 7095-4819
Fax:+ 49 (0) 89 7095-4801

E-mail: vflanagin[at]


Questions to address

1) How are different sensory systems are integrated in order to form a coherent spatial concept? Using both psychophysical experiments on the BCCN virtual reality (VR) setup and in the MR-scanner, we would like to look at visual, vestibular and acoustic inputs in spatial navigation. Based upon Bayesian principles interindividual differences and sensory interference will be examined.

2) What is the effective connectivity of neural circuits during spatial cognition? This question will be addressed through fMRI analysis of spatial navigation experiments. In addition, the differences between vestibular patient population and normal subjects will help to elucidate the role of the vestibular system in spatial cognition. Preliminary methodological work has been done in this direction.

3) What is the role of the hippocampus in spatial processing: the cognitive map or episodic memory? The role of the hippocampus in spatial cognition is still not clear. Some electrophysiological evidence attributes hippocampal processing to the development of an internal spatial map; other studies suggest that it might just be a spatial form of episodic memory. This project addresses this question using functional MRI, involving spatial and autobiographical memory in a non-cued recall paradigm. Together with a memory consolidation expert, Steffen Gais, we have started work on this topic.

4) What are the top-down influences on vestibular processing during spatial perception? We do not always have conscious access to the spatial processing that we perform every day. However if we do not pay attention we can loose our way and it is possible to consciously think about space, transforming our conception into different frames of reference. This project will address the question of how conscious thought influences spatial perception, by using dual task experiments, attentional paradigms and different spatial frames of reference.

Collaboration Partners:

Lutz Wiegrebe: (BCCN, Biology) Spatial acoustic processing and echolocation in humans
Stefan Glasauer: (BCCN, IFB) Systems modelling of path integration and spatial navigation
Klaus Jahn & Katharina Hüfner: (IFB, Neurological clinic) Vestibular patient populations
Paul MacNeilage: (IFB) Bayesian integration of multisensory signals for spatial cognition
Lillianne Mujica-Parodi: (Stony Brook, NY, USA) Inter-individual differences in navigational ability.

Current Students

Dipl. Psych. Eva Fraedrich (PhD Student)
Dipl. Biol. Magdalena Wutte (PhD Student)
Dipl. Phys. Frederike Petzschner (PhD Student)
Christopher Roppelt (Diploma Student)


Hüfner K, Binetti C, Hamilton DA, Stephan T, Flanagin VL, Linn J, Labudda K, Markowitsch H, Glasauer S, Jahn K, Strupp M, Brandt T. (2010): Structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampal formation in professional dancers and slackliners. Hippocampus

Flanagin VL, Wutte M, Glasauer S, and Jahn K (2009): Driving dreams: cortical activations during imagined passive and active whole body movement.  Ann N Y Acad Sci   1164  : 372-375.

Glasauer S, Stein A, Günther AL, Flanagin VL, Jahn K, and Brandt T (2009): The effect of dual tasks in locomotor path integration. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1164 : 201-205.

Hüfner K, Stephan T, Flanagin VL, Deutschländer A, Stein A, Kalla R, Dera T, Fesl G, Jahn K, Strupp M, and Brandt T (2009): Differential effects of eyes open or closed in darkness on brain activation patterns in blind subjects. Neurosci Lett 466 (1): 30-34.

Kleemann AM, Albrecht J, Schöpf V, Haegler K, Kopietz R, Hempel JM, Linn J, Flanagin VL, Fesl G, and Wiesmann M (2009): Trigeminal perception is necessary to localize odors. 97 (3-4): 401-405.

Safran MN, Flanagin VL, Borst A, and Sompolinsky H (2007): Adaptation and information transmission in fly motion detection. J Neurophysiol 98 (6): 3309-3320.

Borst A, Flanagin VL, and Sompolinsky H (2005): Adaptation without parameter change: Dynamic gain control in motion detection. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102 (17): 6172-6176.