Tracking the Emergence of Location-based Spatial Representations in Human Scene-Selective Cortex

J Cogn Neurosci. 2021 Mar;33(3):445-462. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01654. Epub 2020 Dec 7.


Scene-selective regions of the human brain form allocentric representations of locations in our environment. These representations are independent of heading direction and allow us to know where we are regardless of our direction of travel. However, we know little about how these location-based representations are formed. Using fMRI representational similarity analysis and linear mixed models, we tracked the emergence of location-based representations in scene-selective brain regions. We estimated patterns of activity for two distinct scenes, taken before and after participants learnt they were from the same location. During a learning phase, we presented participants with two types of panoramic videos: (1) an overlap video condition displaying two distinct scenes (0° and 180°) from the same location and (2) a no-overlap video displaying two distinct scenes from different locations (which served as a control condition). In the parahippocampal cortex (PHC) and retrosplenial cortex (RSC), representations of scenes from the same location became more similar to each other only after they had been shown in the overlap condition, suggesting the emergence of viewpoint-independent location-based representations. Whereas these representations emerged in the PHC regardless of task performance, RSC representations only emerged for locations where participants could behaviorally identify the two scenes as belonging to the same location. The results suggest that we can track the emergence of location-based representations in the PHC and RSC in a single fMRI experiment. Further, they support computational models that propose the RSC plays a key role in transforming viewpoint-independent representations into behaviorally relevant representations of specific viewpoints.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging