Traversal of a complicated route is often facilitated by considering it as a set of related sub-spaces. Such compartmentalization processes could occur within retrosplenial cortex, a structure whose neurons simultaneously encode position within routes and other spatial coordinate systems. Here, retrosplenial cortex neurons were recorded as rats traversed a track having recurrent structure at multiple scales. Consistent with a major role in compartmentalization of complex routes, individual retrosplenial cortex (RSC) neurons exhibited periodic activation patterns that repeated across route segments having the same shape. Concurrently, a larger population of RSC neurons exhibited single-cycle periodicity over the full route, effectively defining a framework for encoding of sub-route positions relative to the whole. The same population simultaneously provides a novel metric for distance from each route position to all others. Together, the findings implicate retrosplenial cortex in the extraction of path sub-spaces, the encoding of their spatial relationships to each other, and path integration.
Keywords: distance; fragmentation; hippocampus; path integration; periodicity; retrosplenial cortex; spatial navigation; spatial representation; sub-route; sub-space.
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