Representation of Three-Dimensional Space in the Hippocampus of Flying Bats

Science  19 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6130, pp. 367-372
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235338

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Bats, Grids, and Oscillations

Nearly all animals move around in a three-dimensional (3D) world; however, very little is known about the neural circuitry underlying the representation of 3D space (see the Perspective by Barry and Doeller). Using whole-cell patch recordings in slices of entorhinal cortex, Heys et al. (p. 363) found that bat entorhinal stellate cells must generate grid patterns without theta-frequency oscillatory mechanisms. In another study, Yartsev and Ulanovsky (p. 367) used telemetry to record activity from the hippocampus of bats while they were flying around. They found that active pyramidal cells—or place cells—in hippocampal area CA1 fired in positions, depending on where the animals were in the room.


Many animals, on air, water, or land, navigate in three-dimensional (3D) environments, yet it remains unclear how brain circuits encode the animal's 3D position. We recorded single neurons in freely flying bats, using a wireless neural-telemetry system, and studied how hippocampal place cells encode 3D volumetric space during flight. Individual place cells were active in confined 3D volumes, and in >90% of the neurons, all three axes were encoded with similar resolution. The 3D place fields from different neurons spanned different locations and collectively represented uniformly the available space in the room. Theta rhythmicity was absent in the firing patterns of 3D place cells. These results suggest that the bat hippocampus represents 3D volumetric space by a uniform and nearly isotropic rate code.

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