Understanding the development of the neural circuits subserving specific cognitive functions such as navigation remains a central problem in neuroscience. Here, we characterize the development of grid cells in the medial entorhinal cortex, which, by nature of their regularly spaced firing fields, are thought to provide a distance metric to the hippocampal neural representation of space. Grid cells emerge at the time of weaning in the rat, at around 3 weeks of age. We investigated whether grid cells in young rats are functionally equivalent to those observed in the adult as soon as they appear, or if instead they follow a gradual developmental trajectory. We find that, from the very youngest ages at which reproducible grid firing is observed (postnatal day 19): grid cells display adult-like firing fields that tessellate to form a coherent map of the local environment; that this map is universal, maintaining its internal structure across different environments; and that grid cells in young rats, as in adults, also encode a representation of direction and speed. To further investigate the developmental processes leading up to the appearance of grid cells, we present data from individual medial entorhinal cortex cells recorded across more than 1 day, spanning the period before and after the grid firing pattern emerged. We find that increasing spatial stability of firing was correlated with increasing gridness.
Keywords: development; entorhinal cortex; grid cell; hippocampus.