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Publication Detail
Hippocampal place cells use vector computations to navigate


One function of the Hippocampal Cognitive Map is to provide information about salient locations in familiar environments such as those containing reward or danger, and to support navigation towards or away from those locations 1 . Although much is known about how the hippocampus encodes location in world-centred coordinates, how it supports flexible navigation is less well understood. We recorded from CA1 place cells while rats navigated to a goal or freely foraged on the honeycomb maze 2 . The maze tests the animal’s ability to navigate using indirect as well as direct paths to the goal and allows the directionality of place cells to be assessed at each choice point during traversal to the goal. Place fields showed strong directional polarization in the navigation task, and to a lesser extent during random foraging. This polarization was characterized by vector fields which converged to sinks distributed throughout the environment. The distribution of these convergence sinks was centred near the goal location, and the population vector field converged on the goal, providing a strong navigational signal. Changing the goal location led to the movement of ConSinks and vector fields towards the new goal and within-days, the ConSink distance to the goal decreased with continued training. The honeycomb maze allows the independent assessment of spatial representation and spatial action in place cell activity and shows how the latter depends on the former. The results suggest a vector-based model of how the hippocampus supports flexible navigation, allowing animals to select optimal paths to destinations from any location in the environment.
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