Development of the Hippocampal Cognitive Map in Preweanling Rats

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  18 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5985, pp. 1573-1576
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188224

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

The Space in Your Head

Space, and events associated with places and spaces, are represented in the brain by a circuitry made of place cells, head direction cells, grid cells, and border cells. These cell types form a collective dynamic representation of our position as we move through the environment. How this representation is formed has remained a mystery. Is it acquired, or are we born with the ability to represent external space (see the Perspective by Palmer and Lynch)? Langston et al. (p. 1576) and Wills et al. (p. 1573) investigated the early development of spatial activity in the hippocampal formation and the entorhinal cortex of rat pups when they first began to explore their environment. Rudiments of place cells, head direction cells, and grid cells already existed when the pups made their first movements out of the nest. A neural representation of external space at this early time points to strong innate components for perception of space. These findings provide experimental support for Kant's 200-year-old concept of space as an a priori faculty of the mind.


Orienting in large-scale space depends on the interaction of environmental experience and preconfigured, possibly innate, constructs. Place, head-direction, and grid cells in the hippocampal formation provide allocentric representations of space. Here we show how these cognitive representations emerge and develop as rat pups first begin to explore their environment. Directional, locational, and rhythmic organization of firing are present during initial exploration, including adultlike directional firing. The stability and precision of place cell firing continue to develop throughout juvenility. Stable grid cell firing appears later but matures rapidly to adult levels. Our results demonstrate the presence of three neuronal representations of space before extensive experience and show how they develop with age.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science