Spatial olfactory learning contributes to place field formation in the hippocampus

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Feb;25(2):423-32. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht239. Epub 2013 Sep 5.


Spatial encoding in the hippocampus is multifactorial, and it is well established that metric information about space is conferred by place cells that fire when an animal finds itself in a specific environmental location. Visuospatial contexts comprise a key element in the formation of place fields. Nevertheless, hippocampus does not only use visual cues to generate spatial representations. In the absence of visual input, both humans and other vertebrates studied in this context, are capable of generating very effective spatial representations. However, little is known about the relationship between nonvisual sensory modalities and the establishment of place fields. Substantial evidence exists that olfactory information can be used to learn spatial contexts. Here, we report that learning about a distinct odor constellation in an environment, where visual and auditory cues are suppressed, results in stable place fields that rotate when the odor constellations are rotated and remap when the odor constellations are shuffled. These data support that the hippocampus can use nonvisuospatial resources, and specifically can use spatial olfactory information, to generate spatial representations. Despite the less precise nature of olfactory stimuli compared with visual stimuli, these can substitute for visual inputs to enable the acquisition of metric information about space.

Keywords: CA1; hippocampus; olfactory; place cells; sensory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Rotation
  • Spatial Learning / physiology*