Place-selective activity in hippocampal neurons can be modulated by the trajectory that will be taken in the immediate future ("prospective coding"), information that could be useful in neural processes elaborating choices in route planning. To determine if and how hippocampal prospective neurons participate in decision making, we measured the time course of the evolution of prospective activity by recording place responses in rats performing a T-maze alternation task. After five or seven alternation trials, the routine was unpredictably interrupted by a photodetector-triggered visual cue as the rat crossed the middle of central arm, signaling it to suddenly change its intended choice. Comparison of the delays between light cue presentation and the onset of prospective activity for neurons with firing fields at various locations after the trigger point revealed a 420 ms processing delay. This surprisingly long delay indicates that prospective activity in the hippocampus appears much too late to generate planning or decision signals. This provides yet another example of a prominent brain activity that is unlikely to play a functional role in the cognitive function that it appears to represent (planning future trajectories). Nonetheless, the hippocampus may provide other contextual information to areas active at the earliest stages of selecting future paths, which would then return signals that help establish hippocampal prospective activity.
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.