Anchoring the neural compass: coding of local spatial reference frames in human medial parietal lobe

Nat Neurosci. 2014 Nov;17(11):1598-606. doi: 10.1038/nn.3834. Epub 2014 Oct 5.


The neural systems that code for location and facing direction during spatial navigation have been investigated extensively; however, the mechanisms by which these quantities are referenced to external features of the world are not well understood. To address this issue, we examined behavioral priming and functional magnetic resonance imaging activity patterns while human subjects recalled spatial views from a recently learned virtual environment. Behavioral results indicated that imagined location and facing direction were represented during this task, and multivoxel pattern analyses indicated that the retrosplenial complex (RSC) was the anatomical locus of these spatial codes. Critically, in both cases, location and direction were defined on the basis of fixed elements of the local environment and generalized across geometrically similar local environments. These results suggest that RSC anchors internal spatial representations to local topographical features, thus allowing us to stay oriented while we navigate and retrieve from memory the experience of being in a particular place.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Young Adult