Hippocampal place cells fire at different rates when a rodent runs through a given location on its way to different destinations. However, it is unclear whether such firing represents the animal's intended destination or the execution of a specific trajectory. To distinguish between these possibilities, Lister Hooded rats (n = 8) were trained to navigate from a start box to three goal locations via four partially overlapping routes. Two of these led to the same goal location. Of the cells that fired on these two routes, 95.8% showed route-dependent firing (firing on only one route), whereas only two cells (4.2%) showed goal-dependent firing (firing similarly on both routes). In addition, route-dependent place cells over-represented the less discriminable routes, and place cells in general over-represented the start location. These results indicate that place cell firing on overlapping routes reflects the animal's route, not its goals, and that this firing may aid spatial discrimination.
Keywords: hippocampus; neuroscience; place cells; rat; spatial memory; trajectory encoding.