Spatial orientation was tested during a horizontal and vertical real navigation task in humans. Video tracking of eye movements was used to analyse the behavioral strategy and combined with simultaneous measurements of brain activation and metabolism ([18F]-FDG-PET). Spatial navigation performance was significantly better during horizontal navigation. Horizontal navigation was predominantly visually and landmark-guided. PET measurements indicated that glucose metabolism increased in the right hippocampus, bilateral retrosplenial cortex, and pontine tegmentum during horizontal navigation. In contrast, vertical navigation was less reliant on visual and landmark information. In PET, vertical navigation activated the bilateral hippocampus and insula. Direct comparison revealed a relative activation in the pontine tegmentum and visual cortical areas during horizontal navigation and in the flocculus, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex during vertical navigation. In conclusion, these data indicate a functional anisotropy of human 3D-navigation in favor of the horizontal plane. There are common brain areas for both forms of navigation (hippocampus) as well as unique areas such as the retrosplenial cortex, visual cortex (horizontal navigation), flocculus, and vestibular multisensory cortex (vertical navigation). Visually guided landmark recognition seems to be more important for horizontal navigation, while distance estimation based on vestibular input might be more relevant for vertical navigation.

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