Place field assembly distribution encodes preferred locations

PLoS Biol. 2017 Sep 12;15(9):e2002365. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2002365. eCollection 2017 Sep.


The hippocampus is the main locus of episodic memory formation and the neurons there encode the spatial map of the environment. Hippocampal place cells represent location, but their role in the learning of preferential location remains unclear. The hippocampus may encode locations independently from the stimuli and events that are associated with these locations. We have discovered a unique population code for the experience-dependent value of the context. The degree of reward-driven navigation preference highly correlates with the spatial distribution of the place fields recorded in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. We show place field clustering towards rewarded locations. Optogenetic manipulation of the ventral tegmental area demonstrates that the experience-dependent place field assembly distribution is directed by tegmental dopaminergic activity. The ability of the place cells to remap parallels the acquisition of reward context. Our findings present key evidence that the hippocampal neurons are not merely mapping the static environment but also store the concurrent context reward value, enabling episodic memory for past experience to support future adaptive behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology