Principles governing the integration of landmark and self-motion cues in entorhinal cortical codes for navigation.
ABSTRACT: To guide navigation, the nervous system integrates multisensory self-motion and landmark information. We dissected how these inputs generate spatial representations by recording entorhinal grid, border and speed cells in mice navigating virtual environments. Manipulating the gain between the animal's locomotion and the visual scene revealed that border cells responded to landmark cues while grid and speed cells responded to combinations of locomotion, optic flow and landmark cues in a context-dependent manner, with optic flow becoming more influential when it was faster than expected. A network model explained these results by revealing a phase transition between two regimes in which grid cells remain coherent with or break away from the landmark reference frame. Moreover, during path-integration-based navigation, mice estimated their position following principles predicted by our recordings. Together, these results provide a theoretical framework for understanding how landmark and self-motion cues combine during navigation to generate spatial representations and guide behavior.
Project description:Neurons of the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) provide spatial representations critical for navigation. In this network, the periodic firing fields of grid cells act as a metric element for position. The location of the grid firing fields depends on interactions between self-motion information, geometrical properties of the environment and nonmetric contextual cues. Here, we test whether visual information, including nonmetric contextual cues, also regulates the firing rate of MEC neurons. Removal of visual landmarks caused a profound impairment in grid cell periodicity. Moreover, the speed code of MEC neurons changed in darkness and the activity of border cells became less confined to environmental boundaries. Half of the MEC neurons changed their firing rate in darkness. Manipulations of nonmetric visual cues that left the boundaries of a 1D environment in place caused rate changes in grid cells. These findings reveal context specificity in the rate code of MEC neurons.
Project description:A progressive loss of navigational abilities in old age has been observed in numerous studies, but we have only limited understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying this decline . A central component of the brain's navigation circuit are grid cells in entorhinal cortex , largely thought to support intrinsic self-motion-related computations, such as path integration (i.e., keeping track of one's position by integrating self-motion cues) [3-6]. Given that entorhinal cortex is particularly vulnerable to neurodegenerative processes during aging and Alzheimer's disease [7-14], deficits in grid cell function could be a key mechanism to explain age-related navigational decline. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two experiments in healthy young and older adults. First, in an fMRI experiment, we found significantly reduced grid-cell-like representations in entorhinal cortex of older adults. Second, in a behavioral path integration experiment, older adults showed deficits in computations of self-position during path integration based on body-based or visual self-motion cues. Most strikingly, we found that these path integration deficits in older adults could be explained by their individual magnitudes of grid-cell-like representations, as reduced grid-cell-like representations were associated with larger path integration errors. Together, these results show that grid-cell-like representations in entorhinal cortex are compromised in healthy aging. Furthermore, the association between grid-cell-like representations and path integration performance in old age supports the notion that grid cells underlie path integration processes. We therefore conclude that impaired grid cell function may play a key role in age-related decline of specific higher-order cognitive functions, such as spatial navigation.
Project description:Upon encountering a novel environment, an animal must construct a consistent environmental map, as well as an internal estimate of its position within that map, by combining information from two distinct sources: self-motion cues and sensory landmark cues. How do known aspects of neural circuit dynamics and synaptic plasticity conspire to accomplish this feat? Here we show analytically how a neural attractor model that combines path integration of self-motion cues with Hebbian plasticity in synaptic weights from landmark cells can self-organize a consistent map of space as the animal explores an environment. Intriguingly, the emergence of this map can be understood as an elastic relaxation process between landmark cells mediated by the attractor network. Moreover, our model makes several experimentally testable predictions, including (i) systematic path-dependent shifts in the firing fields of grid cells toward the most recently encountered landmark, even in a fully learned environment; (ii) systematic deformations in the firing fields of grid cells in irregular environments, akin to elastic deformations of solids forced into irregular containers; and (iii) the creation of topological defects in grid cell firing patterns through specific environmental manipulations. Taken together, our results conceptually link known aspects of neurons and synapses to an emergent solution of a fundamental computational problem in navigation, while providing a unified account of disparate experimental observations.
Project description:Spatial navigation requires landmark coding from two perspectives, relying on viewpoint-invariant and self-referenced representations. The brain encodes information within each reference frame but their interactions and functional dependency remains unclear. Here we investigate the relationship between neurons in the rat's retrosplenial cortex (RSC) and entorhinal cortex (MEC) that increase firing near boundaries of space. Border cells in RSC specifically encode walls, but not objects, and are sensitive to the animal's direction to nearby borders. These egocentric representations are generated independent of visual or whisker sensation but are affected by inputs from MEC that contains allocentric spatial cells. Pharmaco- and optogenetic inhibition of MEC led to a disruption of border coding in RSC, but not vice versa, indicating allocentric-to-egocentric transformation. Finally, RSC border cells fire prospective to the animal's next motion, unlike those in MEC, revealing the MEC-RSC pathway as an extended border coding circuit that implements coordinate transformation to guide navigation behavior.
Project description:Fast moving animals depend on cues derived from the optic flow on their retina. Optic flow from translational locomotion includes information about the three-dimensional composition of the environment, while optic flow experienced during a rotational self motion does not. Thus, a saccadic gaze strategy that segregates rotations from translational movements during locomotion will facilitate extraction of spatial information from the visual input. We analysed whether birds use such a strategy by highspeed video recording zebra finches from two directions during an obstacle avoidance task. Each frame of the recording was examined to derive position and orientation of the beak in three-dimensional space. The data show that in all flights the head orientation was shifted in a saccadic fashion and was kept straight between saccades. Therefore, birds use a gaze strategy that actively stabilizes their gaze during translation to simplify optic flow based navigation. This is the first evidence of birds actively optimizing optic flow during flight.
Project description:To successfully navigate their habitats, many mammals use a combination of two mechanisms, path integration and calibration using landmarks, which together enable them to estimate their location and orientation, or pose. In large natural environments, both these mechanisms are characterized by uncertainty: the path integration process is subject to the accumulation of error, while landmark calibration is limited by perceptual ambiguity. It remains unclear how animals form coherent spatial representations in the presence of such uncertainty. Navigation research using robots has determined that uncertainty can be effectively addressed by maintaining multiple probabilistic estimates of a robot's pose. Here we show how conjunctive grid cells in dorsocaudal medial entorhinal cortex (dMEC) may maintain multiple estimates of pose using a brain-based robot navigation system known as RatSLAM. Based both on rodent spatially-responsive cells and functional engineering principles, the cells at the core of the RatSLAM computational model have similar characteristics to rodent grid cells, which we demonstrate by replicating the seminal Moser experiments. We apply the RatSLAM model to a new experimental paradigm designed to examine the responses of a robot or animal in the presence of perceptual ambiguity. Our computational approach enables us to observe short-term population coding of multiple location hypotheses, a phenomenon which would not be easily observable in rodent recordings. We present behavioral and neural evidence demonstrating that the conjunctive grid cells maintain and propagate multiple estimates of pose, enabling the correct pose estimate to be resolved over time even without uniquely identifying cues. While recent research has focused on the grid-like firing characteristics, accuracy and representational capacity of grid cells, our results identify a possible critical and unique role for conjunctive grid cells in filtering sensory uncertainty. We anticipate our study to be a starting point for animal experiments that test navigation in perceptually ambiguous environments.
Project description:Visual cues about self-movement are derived from the patterns of optic flow and the relative motion of discrete objects. We recorded dorsal medial superior temporal (MSTd) cortical neurons in monkeys that held centered visual fixation while viewing optic flow and object motion stimuli simulating the self-movement cues seen during translation on a circular path. Twenty stimulus configurations presented naturalistic combinations of optic flow with superimposed objects that simulated either earth-fixed landmark objects or independently moving animate objects. Landmarks and animate objects yield the same response interactions with optic flow; mainly additive effects, with a substantial number of sub- and super-additive responses. Sub- and super-additive interactions reflect each neuron's local and global motion sensitivities: Local motion sensitivity is based on the spatial arrangement of directions created by object motion and the surrounding optic flow. Global motion sensitivity is based on the temporal sequence of self-movement headings that define a simulated path through the environment. We conclude that MST neurons' spatio-temporal response properties combine object motion and optic flow cues to represent self-movement in diverse, naturalistic circumstances.
Project description:Neural circuits generate representations of the external world from multiple information streams. The navigation system provides an exceptional lens through which we may gain insights about how such computations are implemented. Neural circuits in the medial temporal lobe construct a map-like representation of space that supports navigation. This computation integrates multiple sensory cues, and, in addition, is thought to require cues related to the individual's movement through the environment. Here, we identify multiple self-motion signals, related to the position and velocity of the head and eyes, encoded by neurons in a key node of the navigation circuitry of mice, the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC). The representation of these signals is highly integrated with other cues in individual neurons. Such information could be used to compute the allocentric location of landmarks from visual cues and to generate internal representations of space.
Project description:The retinal image changes that occur during locomotion, the optic flow, carry information about self-motion and the three-dimensional structure of the environment. Especially fast moving animals with only little binocular vision depend on these depth cues for maneuvering. They actively control their gaze to facilitate perception of depth based on cues in the optic flow. In the visual system of birds, nucleus rotundus neurons were originally found to respond to object motion but not to background motion. However, when background and object were both moving, responses increased the more the direction and velocity of object and background motion on the retina differed. These properties may play a role in representing depth cues in the optic flow. We therefore investigated, how neurons in nucleus rotundus respond to optic flow that contains depth cues. We presented simplified and naturalistic optic flow on a panoramic LED display while recording from single neurons in nucleus rotundus of anaesthetized zebra finches. Unlike most studies on motion vision in birds, our stimuli included depth information. We found extensive responses of motion selective neurons in nucleus rotundus to optic flow stimuli. Simplified stimuli revealed preferences for optic flow reflecting translational or rotational self-motion. Naturalistic optic flow stimuli elicited complex response modulations, but the presence of objects was signaled by only few neurons. The neurons that did respond to objects in the optic flow, however, show interesting properties.
Project description:Virtual reality (VR) enables precise control of an animal's environment and otherwise impossible experimental manipulations. Neural activity in rodents has been studied on virtual 1D tracks. However, 2D navigation imposes additional requirements, such as the processing of head direction and environment boundaries, and it is unknown whether the neural circuits underlying 2D representations can be sufficiently engaged in VR. We implemented a VR setup for rats, including software and large-scale electrophysiology, that supports 2D navigation by allowing rotation and walking in any direction. The entorhinal-hippocampal circuit, including place, head direction, and grid cells, showed 2D activity patterns similar to those in the real world. Furthermore, border cells were observed, and hippocampal remapping was driven by environment shape, suggesting functional processing of virtual boundaries. These results illustrate that 2D spatial representations can be engaged by visual and rotational vestibular stimuli alone and suggest a novel VR tool for studying rat navigation.