Guifen Chen et al celebrate their latest publication entitled ‘Differential influences of environment and self-motion on place and grid cell firing’ in Nature Communications (7th February 2019).
A team of researchers at UCL, funded by Wellcome Trust and the European Union, have shown that our brains understand where we are by combining two independent information streams.
The authors looked at the activity of two types of spatial cells, place cells and grid cells, using a new immersive virtual reality system developed specifically for rodents. By dissociating the visual movement of the world from physical self-motion of the animal they found that place cells predominantly rely on visual information in order to provide a location signal, while grid cells were more strongly influenced by physical motion.
The lead author, Dr Guifen Chen explains:
“Ever since place cells and grid cells were discovered, scientists have wanted to believe these cells form a unified representation of space. However, our study shows for the first time that place and grid cells, when recorded simultaneously, reflect visual and self-motion inputs independently, and need not be tightly coupled”,
Guifen also worked with Yi Lu, a PhD student here in the Cacucci lab, Dr John King, Prof Francesca Cacucci and Prof Neil Burgess on this paper.
With this result, we can begin to understand how people combine different types of information when navigating through the world. The results may have broader implications for how we process conceptual knowledge. If place cells represent specific states or concepts and grid cells represent the transitions between them, then together the system could support learning and planning within all kinds of tasks.
you can read the full paper here: