Prospective representation of navigational goals in the human hippocampus

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Science  10 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6291, pp. 1323-1326
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0784

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Brain activity to represent the future

How do humans navigate from A to B? Brown et al. developed a virtual reality task to investigate the neural representations that support human navigational planning. Highly specific activity of the hippocampus and related brain areas represented the future locations to which participants eventually moved. Network-level interactions of the hippocampus with the prefrontal cortex thus enable flexible representation of planned destinations.

Science, this issue p. 1323


Mental representation of the future is a fundamental component of goal-directed behavior. Computational and animal models highlight prospective spatial coding in the hippocampus, mediated by interactions with the prefrontal cortex, as a putative mechanism for simulating future events. Using whole-brain high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging and multi-voxel pattern classification, we tested whether the human hippocampus and interrelated cortical structures support prospective representation of navigational goals. Results demonstrated that hippocampal activity patterns code for future goals to which participants subsequently navigate, as well as for intervening locations along the route, consistent with trajectory-specific simulation. The strength of hippocampal goal representations covaried with goal-related coding in the prefrontal, medial temporal, and medial parietal cortex. Collectively, these data indicate that a hippocampal-cortical network supports prospective simulation of navigational events during goal-directed planning.

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