A navigational guidance system in the human brain

Hippocampus. 2007;17(8):618-26. doi: 10.1002/hipo.20298.


Finding your way in large-scale space requires knowing where you currently are and how to get to your goal destination. While much is understood about the neural basis of one's current position during navigation, surprisingly little is known about how the human brain guides navigation to goals. Computational accounts argue that specific brain regions support navigational guidance by coding the proximity and direction to the goal, but empirical evidence for such mechanisms is lacking. Here, we scanned subjects with functional magnetic resonance imaging as they navigated to goal destinations in a highly accurate virtual simulation of a real city. Brain activity was then analyzed in combination with metric measures of proximity and direction to goal destinations that were derived from each individual subject's coordinates at every second of navigation. We found that activity in the medial prefrontal cortex was positively correlated, and activity in a right subicular/entorhinal region was negatively correlated with goal proximity. By contrast, activity in bilateral posterior parietal cortex was correlated with egocentric direction to goals. Our results provide empirical evidence for a navigational guidance system in the human brain, and define more precisely the contribution of these three brain regions to human navigation. In addition, these findings may also have wider implications for how the brain monitors and integrates different types of information in the service of goal-directed behavior in general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • User-Computer Interface


  • Oxygen