The medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) is thought to create and update a dynamical representation of the animal's spatial location. Most suggestive of this process are grid cells, whose firing locations occur periodically in space. Prior studies in small environments were ambiguous as to whether all spatially modulated cells in MEC were variants of grid cells or whether a subset resembled classic place cells of the hippocampus. Recordings from the dorsal and ventral MEC were performed as four rats foraged in a small square box centered inside a larger one. After 6 min, without removing the rat from the enclosure, the walls of the small box were quickly removed, leaving the rat free to continue foraging in the whole area enclosed by the larger box. The rate-responses of most recorded cells (70 out of 93 cells, including 15 of 16 putative interneurons) were considered spatially modulated based on information-theoretic analysis. A number of cells that resembled classic hippocampal place cells in the small box were revealed to be grid cells in the larger box. In contrast, other cells that fired along the boundaries or corners of the small box did not show grid-cell firing in the large box, but instead fired along the corresponding locations of the large box. Remapping of the spatial response in the area corresponding to the small box after the removal of its walls was prominent in most spatially modulated cells. These results show that manipulation of local boundaries can exert a powerful influence on the spatial firing patterns of MEC cells even when the manipulations leave global cues unchanged and allow uninterrupted, self-motion-based localization. Further, they suggest the presence of landmark-related information in MEC, which might prevent cumulative drift of the spatial representation or might reset it to a previously learned configuration in a familiar environment.
Copyright 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.