The entorhinal cognitive map is attracted to goals

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Science  29 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6434, pp. 1443-1447
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav4837

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Reward and the map in the brain

Recent findings suggest a more complex role of grid cells in the brain than simply coding for space. The grid map in the entorhinal cortex, which is responsible for encoding spatial information, is not as rigid as originally thought and can be distorted by environmental modifications (see the Perspective by Quian Quiroga). Butler et al. compared grid cell coding during a free-foraging task and a spatial memory task in rats. They discovered that entorhinal spatial maps restructure to incorporate the location of a learned reward. Boccara et al. tested the influence of behaviorally relevant information on the cognitive map that emerges from grid cell firing in the rat medial entorhinal cortex. They found that grid cells participate in neural coding of the goal locality, not the whole environment.

Science, this issue p. 1447, p. 1443; see also p. 1388


Grid cells with their rigid hexagonal firing fields are thought to provide an invariant metric to the hippocampal cognitive map, yet environmental geometrical features have recently been shown to distort the grid structure. Given that the hippocampal role goes beyond space, we tested the influence of nonspatial information on the grid organization. We trained rats to daily learn three new reward locations on a cheeseboard maze while recording from the medial entorhinal cortex and the hippocampal CA1 region. Many grid fields moved toward goal location, leading to long-lasting deformations of the entorhinal map. Therefore, distortions in the grid structure contribute to goal representation during both learning and recall, which demonstrates that grid cells participate in mnemonic coding and do not merely provide a simple metric of space.

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