Structural Differences in Hippocampal and Entorhinal Gray Matter Volume Support Individual Differences in First Person Navigational Ability

Neuroscience. 2018 Jun 1:380:123-131. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2018.04.006. Epub 2018 Apr 17.


The ability to update position and orientation to reach a goal is crucial to spatial navigation and individuals vary considerably in this ability. The current structural MRI study used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analysis to relate individual differences in human brain morphology to performance in an active navigation task that relied on updating position and orientation in a landmark-free environment. Goal-directed navigation took place from either a first person perspective, similar to a person walking through the landmark-free environment, or Survey perspective, a bird's eye view. Critically, the first person perspective required a transformation of spatial information from an allocentric into an egocentric reference frame for goal-directed navigation. Significant structural volume correlations in the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and thalamus were related to first person navigational accuracy. Our results support the theory that hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and thalamus are key structures for updating position and orientation during ground-level navigation. Furthermore, the results suggest that morphological differences in these regions underlie individual navigational abilities, providing an important link between animal models of navigation and the variability in human navigation.

Keywords: MRI; VBM; human; navigation; structural; thalamus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Entorhinal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • Gray Matter / physiology
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Individuality*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Orientation, Spatial / physiology
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*
  • Young Adult