Grid Cells Encode Local Positional Information

Curr Biol. 2017 Aug 7;27(15):2337-2343.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.034. Epub 2017 Jul 27.


The brain has an extraordinary ability to create an internal spatial map of the external world [1]. This map-like representation of environmental surroundings is encoded through specific types of neurons, located within the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, which exhibit spatially tuned firing patterns [2, 3]. In addition to encoding space, these neurons are believed to be related to contextual information and memory [4-7]. One class of such cells is the grid cells, which are located within the entorhinal cortex, presubiculum, and parasubiculum [3, 8]. Grid cell firing forms a hexagonal array of firing fields, a pattern that is largely thought to reflect the operation of intrinsic self-motion-related computations [9-12]. If this is the case, then fields should be relatively uniform in size, number of spikes, and peak firing rate. However, it has been suggested that this is not in fact the case [3, 13]. The possibility exists that local spatial information also influences grid cells, which-if true-would greatly change the way in which grid cells are thought to contribute to place coding. Accordingly, we asked how discriminable the individual fields of a given grid cell are by looking at the distribution of field firing rates and reproducibility of this distribution across trials. Grid fields were less uniform in intensity than expected, and the pattern of strong and weak fields was spatially stable and recurred across trials. The distribution remained unchanged even after arena rescaling, but not after remapping. This suggests that additional local information is being overlaid onto the global hexagonal pattern of grid cells.

Keywords: cognitive map; entorhinal cortex; grid cells; hippocampus; path integration; place cells; remapping; self-localization; spatial memory; spatial variability.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Entorhinal Cortex / physiology*
  • Grid Cells / physiology*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology