A map of abstract relational knowledge in the human hippocampal-entorhinal cortex

Elife. 2017 Apr 27;6:e17086. doi: 10.7554/eLife.17086.


The hippocampal-entorhinal system encodes a map of space that guides spatial navigation. Goal-directed behaviour outside of spatial navigation similarly requires a representation of abstract forms of relational knowledge. This information relies on the same neural system, but it is not known whether the organisational principles governing continuous maps may extend to the implicit encoding of discrete, non-spatial graphs. Here, we show that the human hippocampal-entorhinal system can represent relationships between objects using a metric that depends on associative strength. We reconstruct a map-like knowledge structure directly from a hippocampal-entorhinal functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation signal in a situation where relationships are non-spatial rather than spatial, discrete rather than continuous, and unavailable to conscious awareness. Notably, the measure that best predicted a behavioural signature of implicit knowledge and blood oxygen level-dependent adaptation was a weighted sum of future states, akin to the successor representation that has been proposed to account for place and grid-cell firing patterns.

Keywords: entorhinal cortex; human; medial temporal lobes; memory; neuroscience; statistical learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological