The Mouse Magnetic Compass

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Virginia Tech


All five classes of vertebrates use the geomagnetic field for spatial orientation. The geomagnetic field can be used to derive both 'map' and 'compass' information. There is evidence for two different mechanisms used to sense the magnetic field, the radical pair mechanism (RPM) and the magnetite based mechanism (MBM). C57BL/6 laboratory mice can rely on directional information from the magnetic field to position their nests and to solve a water maze task.

The primary objective of this research was to characterize the magnetic compass of C57BL/6 laboratory mice in the plus water maze task. These experiments explored sources of variation in magnetic responses and investigated the underlying magnetic compass orientation mechanism in C57BL/6 mice. The results provide evidence that the mouse magnetic compass is sensitive to low-level radiofrequency fields, consistent with the use of the RPM for magnetic orientation. Surprisingly, the results also suggest that C57BL/6 mice have a polarity sensitive compass, consistent with the use of a MBM for magnetic orientation.

These experiments confirm that mice have a specialized magnetic compass sense. Furthermore, despite the controlled environment in which these laboratory experiments were conducted, a variety of factors can increase the variability in the response. Future experiments are needed to further characterize the mouse magnetic compass, as there is a possibility of a hybrid magnetic response where both magnetoreception mechanisms could be used for spatial orientation.



magnetic orientation, C57BL/6 mice, water maze, magnetic compass, spatial navigation