Neurons in the medial entorhinal cortex encode location through spatial firing fields that have a grid-like organisation. The challenge of identifying mechanisms for grid firing has been addressed through experimental and theoretical investigations of medial entorhinal circuits. Here, we discuss evidence for continuous attractor network models that account for grid firing by synaptic interactions between excitatory and inhibitory cells. These models assume that grid-like firing patterns are the result of computation of location from velocity inputs, with additional spatial input required to oppose drift in the attractor state. We focus on properties of continuous attractor networks that are revealed by explicitly considering excitatory and inhibitory neurons, their connectivity and their membrane potential dynamics. Models at this level of detail can account for theta-nested gamma oscillations as well as grid firing, predict spatial firing of interneurons as well as excitatory cells, show how gamma oscillations can be modulated independently from spatial computations, reveal critical roles for neuronal noise, and demonstrate that only a subset of excitatory cells in a network need have grid-like firing fields. Evaluating experimental data against predictions from detailed network models will be important for establishing the mechanisms mediating grid firing.
© 2016 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society.