Environmental boundaries as a mechanism for correcting and anchoring spatial maps

J Physiol. 2016 Nov 15;594(22):6501-6511. doi: 10.1113/JP270624. Epub 2016 Jan 5.


Ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom, path integration-based navigation allows an animal to take a circuitous route out from a home base and using only self-motion cues, calculate a direct vector back. Despite variation in an animal's running speed and direction, medial entorhinal grid cells fire in repeating place-specific locations, pointing to the medial entorhinal circuit as a potential neural substrate for path integration-based spatial navigation. Supporting this idea, grid cells appear to provide an environment-independent metric representation of the animal's location in space and preserve their periodic firing structure even in complete darkness. However, a series of recent experiments indicate that spatially responsive medial entorhinal neurons depend on environmental cues in a more complex manner than previously proposed. While multiple types of landmarks may influence entorhinal spatial codes, environmental boundaries have emerged as salient landmarks that both correct error in entorhinal grid cells and bind internal spatial representations to the geometry of the external spatial world. The influence of boundaries on error correction and grid symmetry points to medial entorhinal border cells, which fire at a high rate only near environmental boundaries, as a potential neural substrate for landmark-driven control of spatial codes. The influence of border cells on other entorhinal cell populations, such as grid cells, could depend on plasticity, raising the possibility that experience plays a critical role in determining how external cues influence internal spatial representations.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Environment
  • Grid Cells / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*