Electrophysiological Signatures of Spatial Boundaries in the Human Subiculum

J Neurosci. 2018 Mar 28;38(13):3265-3272. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3216-17.2018. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Environmental boundaries play a crucial role in spatial navigation and memory across a wide range of distantly related species. In rodents, boundary representations have been identified at the single-cell level in the subiculum and entorhinal cortex of the hippocampal formation. Although studies of hippocampal function and spatial behavior suggest that similar representations might exist in humans, boundary-related neural activity has not been identified electrophysiologically in humans until now. To address this gap in the literature, we analyzed intracranial recordings from the hippocampal formation of surgical epilepsy patients (of both sexes) while they performed a virtual spatial navigation task and compared the power in three frequency bands (1-4, 4-10, and 30-90 Hz) for target locations near and far from the environmental boundaries. Our results suggest that encoding locations near boundaries elicited stronger theta oscillations than for target locations near the center of the environment and that this difference cannot be explained by variables such as trial length, speed, movement, or performance. These findings provide direct evidence of boundary-dependent neural activity localized in humans to the subiculum, the homolog of the hippocampal subregion in which most boundary cells are found in rodents, and indicate that this system can represent attended locations that rather than the position of one's own body.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Spatial computations using environmental boundaries are an integral part of the brain's spatial mapping system. In rodents, border/boundary cells in the subiculum and entorhinal cortex reveal boundary coding at the single-neuron level. Although there is good reason to believe that such representations also exist in humans, the evidence has thus far been limited to functional neuroimaging studies that broadly implicate the hippocampus in boundary-based navigation. By combining intracranial recordings with high-resolution imaging of hippocampal subregions, we identified a neural marker of boundary representation in the human subiculum.

Keywords: boundary; cognitive map; human subiculum; intracranial EEG; navigation; theta oscillations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spatial Navigation*
  • Theta Rhythm*