Quantification of a single exploratory trip reveals hippocampal formation mediated dead reckoning

J Neurosci Methods. 2002 Jan 30;113(2):131-45. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0270(01)00489-7.


A rat's proclivity to explore a novel environment presents a behaviorally rich paradigm to investigate the role of the hippocampus in spatial navigation. Here we describe a novel technique of behavioral analysis that is derived from a single exploratory trip. An exploratory trip was defined as a rat's departure from the home base that ended when the rat returned to the home base. The behavior observed on a single exploratory trip by a control animal is highly organized into outward and homeward segments. An outward segment is characterized by a slow circuitous progression from the home base marked by several stops. A homeward segment is characterized by a rapid direct return to the home base. The velocity attribute of the exploratory trip was quantified by estimating the point of inflection associated with the trip's cumulative moment-to-moment velocity distribution. The heading direction and variance of the homeward trip segment was analyzed with circular statistics. A comparison of the exploratory behavior of control animals and animals with damage to the fimbria-fornix indicated that the velocity and heading direction of the homeward portion of the trip depends upon the hippocampal formation. While control and fimbria-fornix rats had similar outward segments, the return paths of the fimbria-fornix rats were significantly slower, more circuitous, and more variable compared with that of the control rats. This result was also independent of testing in light or dark conditions. The lack of dependence on allothetic cues suggests that rats employ dead reckoning navigational strategies to initiate the homeward portion of exploratory movements. Methods to quantify exploratory behavior in terms of velocity and angular components provide an assessment of control behavior and the assessment of the behavior of rats with hippocampal formation damage that is easy to implement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Fornix, Brain / physiology
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Video Recording / methods*