Retrosplenial cortex maps the conjunction of internal and external spaces

Everyday, animals and humans accomplish the amazing feat of navigating the world. This ability requires different forms of spatial information, a mapping of our location within the environment, knowledge of the routes that take us between locations, and an awareness of the sequences of actions that construct these routes. Currently, we know that cells encoding these different forms of spatial knowledge are stored in different neural structures. In 2014, John O’Keefe, Edvard Moser, and May-Britt Moser won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for the discovery of place cells and grid cells, neurons within the hippocampal circuit that are responsible for mapping the position of an animal with respect to the broader environment (O’Keefe and Dostrovsky, 1971; Hafting et al., 2005). Neurons that generate complex representations of the animal’s position along a route and cells that encode route-related actions have been found in the parietal cortex of the rat (Nitz, 2006; Whitlock et al., 2012). Ultimately, these different forms of spatial information, generated in distinct structures, need to be combined in order for an agent to effectively move throughout the world.

Our work explores the spatial firing properties of the retrosplenial cortex (RSC), a cortical region that is anatomically positioned between the parietal cortex and the hippocampus. Here we show that RSC neurons, both individually and at the population level, encode conjunctions among the three different forms of spatial navigation relevant to fluid navigation within the world. Thus, we identify the RSC as key structure for combining the different forms of spatial representation identified in the hippocampus and parietal cortex for use in navigation and memory.

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